In addition to tornado sirens that echoed through communities and alerts that blared across TV screens and over radio airwaves, many Chicago area residents received warnings about Sunday’s severe weather on their smartphones, but some say those alerts never came through, potentially leaving them vulnerable when they needed the heads-up the most.
According to experts, modern mobile phones are supposed to receive alerts for severe weather, such as tornadoes and flash floods. Some residents in the area say their devices didn’t get those alerts during the height of the storm on Sunday night, while others say they got the alerts on some phones but not others.
DuPage County emergency officials say they have heard from numerous residents who said they didn’t get those alerts. They also say that some residents were under the impression that phones that were turned off would turn back on to provide the loud alerts, but cautioned residents that phones have to be powered on to receive warnings.
Tony Marengo of TheMacTutor.com says that it’s a surprisingly common misconception that phones can power back on automatically in emergency situations.
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“The phone has to be on,” he says. “It has to be in a powered on state. An emergency alert from the government or the NOAA cannot turn your phone on.”
Another common issue for those who don’t receive alerts is that their device’s GPS services are not turned on. Cellphone users commonly disable GPS services out of a concern for their privacy, but that action will also cause emergency alerts not to work.
“I have worked with folks in the past who have turned off the location, because they are not crazy about the phone tracking where they are,” Marengo says. “But then the emergency alerts are no longer viable for that person.”
Marengo encourages mobile phone users to be more judicious when it comes to disabling GPS services, doing so for specific apps rather than for all apps. On iPhones, users can customize which apps have access to their location data, and users can also choose when those apps will have that access, including limiting that access to when the app is in active use.
Enabling notifications can also be key, including with apps like the NBC 5 mobile app, which provides push notifications for severe weather alerts.
“Whether you are on an Android phone or an iPhone, you have to enable those emergency government alerts,” Marengo says. “If you were to go into settings, notifications, and emergency alerts, you are able to check those boxes and make sure that they are on.”