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AMBER Alerts on your Windows Phone: What they are and how to manage them

If you’re in California today, you may have heard an AMBER alert go off on your phone. If so, it probably really caught your attention. AMBER stands for America's Missing: Broadcasting Emergency Response Alerts, named after the late Amber Hagerman, and they are part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system on US and other carriers.

With Windows Phone 8 (and iOS and certain Android devices), users can go into their settings to enable or disable such notifications, or select which ones they want to receive. What types are there? What do they mean? We’ll explain.

But first, let’s tell you how to find them, as they’re kind of buried in the Windows Phone menu system.

Emergency Alert Settings on Windows Phone

  1. Settings
  2. Applications (swipe to the right)
  3. Messaging
  4. Emergency Alerts

Once you have loaded up the settings, you will see a few options:

  • AMBER Alerts – on/off
  • Emergency Alerts – All alerts, Presidential only, Presidential and Extreme Alerts

There are three types of WEA alerts, which are defined as such:

  1. Imminent threat alerts: Notify you of severe man-made or natural disasters that pose a threat to life or property
  2. AMBER alerts: Inform you about a missing child in your area
  3. Presidential alerts: Update you on important events

You can of course choose which ones you want to get, including none, though we of course would recommend you opt for all three. That’s the default setting, but it’s always good to know in case you wanted to toggle them. Even more, it’s good to read this post in case you never knew your phone had this function, or, like many, you just had the alert appear on your phone.

These settings are found on AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile Windows Phones.

As you can see with our lede image, taken from an actual AMBER Alert, Windows Phone users will get a full screen notification along with an audio alarm or  intense vibration (if set to vibrate). Basically, even in vibrate mode, it will feel different than a regular notification. If you missed the message, you can go into your Messages inbox and find the Alert there, in case you need the information again (we erroneously reported earlier that there was no record).

What the Alert sounds like

Hit the above YouTube video to hear what the Emergency Alerts sound like. It's pretty identifiable and it should catch your attention. If your phone is set to vibrate, you may only get an intense/long vibration alert.

Have you ever had a Wireless Emergency Alert on your Windows Phone? Share your experience with us below.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

  • That's actually really clever!
  • I remember a few months ago I got an Amber alert on my 928 up here in MN. Great feature! Best way to get the word out about missing children in my opinion.
  • I agree. I'm appalled by the number of people I've seen ask how to turn off the Amber Alerts, though.
  • Yea, but when it goes off in the middle of the night it scared the crap out of me. Plus I hate that siren noise cause it makes me think of a tornado siren.
  • I just hope and pray that if the time comes that an Amber alert needs to be sounded on behalf of YOU and YOUR family, that there will still be enough people with their alert on in their phones to be able to help save YOUR life and YOUR family's.
  • Right, but I live in a rural area. The odds of a child kidnapped in Atlanta (where every amber alert I received was from) comes within 20 miles of my house is probably 1 in a billion. So don't take such offense to people's decisions, sometimes people have different situations.
    Really, I turned it off on my phone because I got a few alerts in the middle of the night.
  • Do you slather on the righeous indignation like cake icing, or is it more of a full-body spray tan?
  • LOL.
  • +1020, Despite it's annoyances, I'm more than willing to take a small irritation here and there if it's for the sake of saving lives.
  • THIS^928.
  • +1
  • I shut them off. But not because I don't care for them. But I would get an alert every hour or so. And the details mention people who went missing in the 90s. So it was inappropriate between the amount of times it sent me stuff and the timing of the people going missing.
  • Well there shouldn't be a time limit on when a child is missing regardless of when cause if it was your child it would be a different story now would it
  • I agree 100%. But my issue is that a person who went missing 15+ years ago in my area most likely is not around the area. And they give a description of someone from 15 years ago (which won't look exactly the same) without a picture. And lastly, they send the same message about the same person every 20 minutes-1 hour. I understand the purpose, but when abused like it is, I see no reason to keep it on. If it were different people, or new information, or a recent case, I would keep it on, But imagine being at work during a meeting and your phone makes everyone think there is a military raid about to happen because it goes off. I have sympathy for the people involved, but it shouldn't be abused as it is.
  • That sounds like a horrible abuse of the system. I have it on and have only gotten a handful of alerts over several years.
  • Honestly, the AMBER Alerts are too loud and non-contextual.  I was in a business meetign with some people from Asia and despite turning my phone to silent it went off like an air raid siren trying to tell me about a missing child 15 miles away.  There was no easy way to explain to my guests what the Alarm was for, that I was not being disrespectful by having my phone set to accept messages while meeting with folks who had travelled thousands of miles to be in that meeting. It would be alot better if they could be set to make a less obtrusive sound during scheduled meetings and when the phone is set to silent.  Otherwise, I suspect a lot of people will turn them off, which will defeat the purpose of them.
  • That's awesome. I wish we had that here in Australia
  • Yeah. Apparently in Canada nothing.
  • In Canada we do have a system (though I think currently it's only for weather), it uses a technology called Mobile Broadcast (or Cellular Broadcast), iPhones, Android Phones support it (at least stock Android) but I don't think Windows Phone does.. Last summer in Ontario we had a terrible thunderstorm, my friends Nexus 4 got the Warning from environment Canada right away while my 920 got nothing... Since this isn't mandatory, it doesn't need to be supported
  • Just got the Amber alert here in southern California. Not near Long Beach at the moment, but hope they find the kid. Glad to have it on Windows Phone!
  • I got it too on my way to lunch.
  • The kid?
  • I do too! :'(
  • I'm in Southern California and never got it. Just check the settings and it is on. Do they target very specific areas? I'm in the San Fernando Valley.
  • Yeah AMBER Alerts and WEA's are usally targated at a certan geographical area so they remain relevant. Though AMBER alerts are usally broadcast pretty far since the person isn't likely to stay in one place...hope the kid is ok though...
  • I work in Canoga Park and got the alert while there.
  • Well I'll be damned. Never knew they could be turned off
  • Please don't, at least the Amber alert one.
  • Then they need to be responsible for when they use it. My phone was going off ever 20 min, even at 2am!
  • I've only received one, EVER. Today was my first one. Not sure why you would get so many.
  • Same here. I've only ever received one, also today. I know my Lumia 920 didn't have that feature but the 1020 does. Anyway, I have no idea why anyone would receive so many alerts. There aren't that many amber alerts!
  • You see them on the road and on the news everywhere anyway, it's not that big a deal
  • Got it
  • This is a pro tip. Never even realized we had that option in WP.
  • We have so many options on wp. We ppl don't have a look regularly. One of my friend didn't new what was glance screen,driving mode and nfc
  • Yes, this is also available on Sprint Windows Phone 8 devices. Verified on my ATIV S Neo.
  • Thanks! Will clarify in the story.
  • Yea it's also on my HTC 8xt (Sprint)! I actually received an amber alert on my phone a few days ago.
  • If you're in the Washington, DC area you've probably had a couple within the last month or so. They're pretty jarring, no doubt. They're distinctly different than any other notification, that's for sure.
  • Yep, jarring is definitely the word. Even though I've gotten a few already, every time it feels (and sounds) like my damn pocket is going to explode.
  • Yupp im in Springfield, MO where that little girl was killed by a teacher a few weeks back. The amber alert that's came through there will make you shit yourself if it comes at the wrong time
  • Ive been receiving these for years now. But its definitely something all phones should have. I wonder if any solutions were direct influence of this system... Especially a windows phone owner ;)
  • Like the article said there was one here in California about 1 hr ago. It caught me by surprise as I have only received extreme weather alerts until today.
  • I live in CA, so yes. :) They sent out one earlier in the year as well, I think that one was the first run of the system nation wide. I believe the sound is the same as the Emergency Broadcast System sound you hear on TV across the board (anyone who lives in the midwest knows what it sounds like), so the office here was pretty noisy when the alert got sent out.
  • Do you know how to get that on my lumia 920? Its an unlocked device I got from finland.
  • I like the idea but didn't like getting the same notification every 30 minutes. It got annoying after a couple hours. It lasted about 4 hours
  • and hance you can find articles on how to turn them off. You annoy people, you basically render the system innefective. when good ideas go bad.
  • +920 Once is enough.  I received the same report almost 2 dozen times in one day and didn't know how to disable it. A big "thank you" for the useful article.
  • It's not on my ATIV S even though the UK operates an AMBER alert system called AMBER Alert Europe.
  • I think it is a good service, though as this article from the local newspaper just this past weekend shows, it has some issues.  
  • Just received an amber alert today while driving to Pismo beach, it's great too have this feature on WP8 to help those in need,.
  • I work in Pismo beach! Nice to see local people online.
  • I believe we might be the only 2 people on the central coast with windows phone's,. L0L that's why it's called the SLO life.
  • What kind of person turns off AMBER Alerts?!?!
  • Maybe police, who find it redundant. Or a Dr. Seuss character.
  • I'd turn them off in a box.
    I'd turn them off with a fox.
    I'd turn them off in a house.
    I'd turn them off with a mouse.
    I would not see them here or there.
    I would not hear them anywhere.
    I would not take Amber Alerts.
    I do not like them, Dan-I-am.   
  • Maybe people with infants who don't want their phones to wake up their kids. The alert will go out even if your phone is in vibrate.
  • Strange... My phone is always on vibrate, and my 1020 complies with this. Rather than hearing the loud emergency broadcast tone thing: it just vibrates like crazy.
  • I turn them off all the time. When one of these things goes off it can cause you to lose concentration and kill you in a car reck. it is an accident waiting to happen. one thing is they were a simple discrete message. But it's like a bomb goes off on your pocket. Plus ok some kid got kinapped, what am I supposed to do at 2am in the morning. off they are. off they shall remain. and BTW, why does obama get to alert me of anything? I wish I could get that off too.
  • Guess what you can't turn off the Presdential Alerts ain't that wonderful
  • I would like to shut that one off and keep the rest...
  • Yeah, can't believe all these Presidential Alerts that bug us all the time!
  • A lot of people after they discover amber alerts can be issued in the middle of the night.  
  • Me. After receiving the same alert 2 dozen times in one day.
  • I turned them off after receiving a few in the middle of the night.
  • Me. They're annoying and pretty much useless unless you're out driving on a freeway in California (and in that case the freeway message boards are also broadcasting the alert). If you ask me AMBER alerts are a gross abuse of this system, turning them off reduces the noise and makes people more likely to pay attention to alerts that have broad applicability (fires, earthquakes, flooding, etc.).
  • I don't go out in public enough to ever assist in finding a particular person, child, car or whatever. Opting in for interested people is fine but so is turning it off.
  • Someone who likes to have control of their device.  You'd have to be dead to miss an Amber alert.  They're everywhere. What kind of person is so concerned with what other people do in their own life?
  • It is the "think of the children" crowd that won't be happy until some amber alert interupts you even when you're pooping :)
  • damn thats a cool usew for tech, I hope they find the kid. We could use that in NZ for earthquake and severe weather warnings. I wonder why we dont hmmm....
  • I received an Amber alert a few months ago. It played the loud TV noise and put a text message in my messages, though. No full screen alert.
  • You cannot turn off the Presidential Alerts, which surprisingly have not yet been used to spam "got healthcare?" ...yet.
  • Typical idiotic conservative ramblings. All it takes is the word "President" and they feel they have to invent completely baseless conspiracy theories that are, as usual, untrue.
  • He is not the king yet, pretty close but not yet, remember he has his pen and phone to declare edicts now.
  • Typical response.
  • Typical typicality.
  • Oh, it's not exclusive to "conservatives"...liberals did the same thing when Bush was President.  ALL of you partisans are annoying.
  • BOOM
  • BENGHAZI!!!!1
  • I've yet to receive an AMBER alert natively on my phone though I have received AMBER alerts via txt from my local municipality as i have signed up for their service. So i'm not sure if VZW just sucks w/ this on WP (highly likely) or if something else is at play.
  • Yes, and I can see them again if I go to messages. L928
  • Ah, good to know. Will update.
  • Yep, see a full history of all the amber alerts you have received. The reply text box is grey out with "Read Only"
  • Always on top of it and reading comments. Swift response Daniel!
  • You guys are our biggest resource ;)
  • I received a tornado warning 2 Sunday's ago. It looked just like that picture, other than stating there was a tornado in the area and to take cover. I find that quite useful living in Florida where the weather can turn on you on a moments notice. Got nasty hail but did not have a tornado touch down.
  • Whoa, that's cool. Never knew we had this.   On that note, I better not see any of you guys show up in an article of your tweets complaining that the alert interrupted your beauty sleep like all those iOS users a month or so back.
  • Yup, it went off on everyone's phone today in class. The teacher got mad, lol.
  • I was in class and I saw a couple of people next to me with iPhones saying they didn't get a notification
  • Same. While most of my friends on iPhones got it, a few didn't. But the ones who didn't all have iPhone 4's, so that could potentially be it. Then again, the AMBER alert system is more of a software thing, and they were all running iOS 7, so...
  • In The Netherlands we have a third party Ambert Alert app. It's not in settings.
  • Here at middle east they use this kind of notification for marketing ads, in addition to the regular sms ads.. No option in the settings to disable it... They sometimes claim that i can disable it by calling the customer service but it didn't eliminate all ads..
  • I prefer only to know about Godzilla attacks, a rouge Titan, or if Rodneyej has entered the state.
  • You live in California Daniel?
  • Sam does. I'm in New York, soon to Massachusetts ;)
  • Cool. If you don't mind me asking, whereabouts in Mass? I would assume Boston. But I just thought I'd ask being a Massachusetts native (and from Boston) myself.
  • Friends don't let friends be Massholes.
  • I wish they would use more common sense and opt to respect your phone's settings. for example, if I'm in a meeting, I don't want these things going off. That's why I set the phone to vibrate. I know most of my co-workers turned them off after an embarrasing incident on a sales demo. Shows why overzealos legislators often don't know how to use technology by demanding these alerts basically turn your phone into a freaking nuclear siren or be off. There is no middle ground. idiots.
  • This is the problem with including what are really very focused alerts like AMBER alerts in a system that should be reserved for critical alerts. If this alert goes off it shouldn't matter where you are or what you're doing - it should be important enough that you need to shut up and listen. Honestly, if your not out driving on a freeway somewhere (certainly if you're sitting in a meeting)  the AMBER alert has zero applicability - except to make the overall alert system less effective. Important alerts: ON, AMBER alerts: OFF.
  • how about they just RESPECT THE PHONE VIBRATION setting. wouldn't that be a fresh change for once.
  • Eh, the thing with driving is to spot the car, possibly on the highway. Here in NY, they broadcast AMBER alerts on the highway roadsigns with the idea that if a kid is kidnapped and in a car, you may actually see the car on the highway.  Granted, if you're phone is in your pocket, this can be an issue, but if you drive with a phone holder, then it's just a swipe away. But this DOES force the question, which I'm surprised you overlooked: Driver Mode on Windows Phone 8 Update 3. That should suppress notifications and I wonder if it does for these too.
  • Same here in Georgia with the road signs, it also broadcasts over TV. I'm not sure how that works since I use satellite.
  • I used to have a Pro Clip for my 920, but I sold that car and now have a car with integrated Bluetooth, which can handle calls and messaging via voice commands.  The phone stays in my pocket, now. Had that alert come in while I was driving, there would have been some sudden lane changes.  It just vibrated like chihuahua until I turned it off.
  • I'm in Virginia and we got one this past month. It was crazy hearing what sounded like a National Broadcasting System alert coming from my phone. The message is in the Messaging app under "threads" after you dismiss it.
  • There is no way to turn off the President's giant voice system?!? That alone is enough to turn me away from the platform...
  • Check the other platforms. Same on Nexus 5. On Samsung phones, they give you an option...but you can't actually check it, so it does nothing. Like Android itself, the Alerts on Android are fragmented in design, options and availability.
  • I would think there would be at least some Android roms out there with it patched out. Edit: yeah, on Android you can edit a XML file to turn the Presidential Alerts off. If there isn't some (even hacky way) to do this on WP, my next phone won't be a WP, and I've been using WP since the first 7s.
  • LOL
    ...and how many Presidential alerts have you gotten? I'd suspect none.
  • I'm pretty sure that presidential speaker wasn't a feature listed for my 920, 520, or focus. It doesn't matter how much it is used. My issue is the fact that it exists at all without a way to turn it off.
  • You know that its for emergency broadcasts only right? Its not like it alerts you to his weekly radio address.
    Seems that most people would appreciate an alert about a national emergency.
  • They just hate Obama so much that even seeing "Presidential" on the phone without being able to turn it off pisses them off.
  • Yet...
  • I don't think you can turn off the presidential one "legally" on any phone.
  • It's just a setting..and WP didn't used to have that ability anyway, so I doubt it is illegal
  • Well, the carriers can't. "If they do not want to participate they may opt to block most CMAS messages, however CMAS regulations[7] prohibit participating carriers from configuring phones to allow users to opt out of messages issued by the President.[2]"  
  • Ok, so I have to do it myself then, which I can on Android, but can't on WP.
  • See ya. Have fun on lagdroid!
    Maybe it will come with a free tin foil hat.
  • At least you have the ability to have a little less big brother in your pocket.
  • You will be the last person to know if there is a national emergency. Good luck.
  • I wouldn't call a failed police state search for an unarmed guy to be a national emergency...
  • It was definitely an emergency in that area, and it was nit sent out nationally.
    Two terrorists on the run, who had already exploded two bombs, killed a cop and carjacked somebody while throwing bombs out their car at police, loose in the neighborhood... that's quite an emergency.
    I wouldn't exactly call it "failed" since one was caught and the other killed.
  • It was after one was killed. It was failed because it wasn't the police that found him. It was a regular person who noticed after the search, that something looked wrong with his boat. ...also, I'm not sure you can exactly label them terrorists when nobody has actually seen the video of them doing anything, yet it supposedly exists. My point is that the kind of police state that happened in that case, should never have been allowed in the US, no matter what did or didn't happen. Having crap in our phone, which is only used for that kind of abuse of power, without the ability to even turn it off, is enough for me to abandon the platform the next time I'm up for renewal.
  • "Having crap in our phone, which is only used for that kind of abuse of power, without the ability to even turn it off, is enough for me to abandon the platform the next time I'm up for renewal." -Korn1699, future ex-WP user
  • According to that last link, it was used during the police state after the Boston bombings, when the government "rescued" the public with a gun in your face, forcing themselves inside your home if you lived in that area.
  • big borther doesn't think you're qualified to make such decision. after all it's just your phone, on your plan, on your money, on a private network. who says you have a say!
  • I never changed my alert setting but I also never received an amber alert. I live in California so I should have gotten quite a few in the last 1.5 years of Lumia 920/1520 ownership. Who do I contact to fix this?
  • California just starting issuing Amber Alert recently, this year I think.
    Edit: it was August, 2013.
  • If you're on AT&T they were very slow rolling this out in California.
  • I got one a few days ago in Maryland looking for some guy in a 99 black durango who killed someone then ran away with his daughter. :0 The alert system is great
  • I got this same amber alert and when I dismissed it, I noticed it also showed up in my list of text messages.
  • Not available on my unlocked phone.  The unlocked phone is the "Carrier: IT Country Variant", so I assume that is why it is not in settings.
  • Yeah, it's an unbranded italian phone
  • Very cool!
  • You have to turn them off in Arizona. The weather service seems to think that everyone needs to be awakened from a dead sleep if someone is getting heavy rain.
  • That's not an AMBER alert.
  • My 810 has been going off every 20 minutes for the last hour and 15 minutes with the same Amber alert you have on the headline picture. But the irony is that my Nexus 4 got it faster than my WP:-(
    But not available in Canada :'(
  • In Canada we do have a system, it uses a technology called Mobile Broadcast (or Cellular Broadcast), iPhones, Android Phones support it (at least stock Android) but I don't think Windows Phone does.. Last summer in Ontario we had a terrible thunderstorm, my friends Nexus 4 got the Warning from environment Canada right away while my 920 got nothing... Since this isn't mandatory, it doesn't need to be supported
  • Do not have this on my unlocked ATT HTC 8X
  • so, apparently we got a quite similar service in Europe called CB (Cell Broadcasting). Thing about this service is that at least in Germany it only provides location data on request, all the rest has been shut down years ago. Still I can find it in my settings as advanced SMS settings.
    The settings page claims it sends information about catastrophes and adverts. I never received anything.
  • We had an Amber Alert here in Baltimore last Thursday.  Was in class at the time, so I could hear a couple phone virbrations (not too many though).  Handy feature assuming it isn't ever abused for not really an emergency situations (someone mentioned heavy rainfall triggering their notifications).
  • I live in the Washington, DC area. There was an AMBER alert for a child last week. The tone and vibration surprised my son and I. It got a bit annoying for me, because I ended up receiving 29 alerts! They were mixed full screen and most were only the upper portion of the screen. Thank goodness they found the little girl unharmed.