AT&T Inc. now says it is ready to deliver emergency alerts to its smartphone subscribers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, months after an NBC 5 investigation revealed that the Dallas-based company was not ready to implement the new government-sponsored system in its hometown market.
"I am happy to report that, since your last report, we have completed our wireless emergency alert deployment in the Dallas area and are working aggressively to complete other areas as quickly as possible," AT&T spokeswoman Alejandra Arango said.
Besides the DFW metropolitan area, AT&T is currently ready to deliver emergency alerts in just three other major cities -- New York, Washington, D.C., and Portland, Ore.
The NBC 5 Investigates team started looking into the Wireless Emergency Alert System after seeing announcements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service this spring that claimed the system was ready to go nationwide.
The alert system is designed to send urgent weather warnings, Amber Alerts and presidential emergency alerts to smartphone users, using technology similar to text messages.
Under the original plan laid out by Congress, wireless carriers who agreed to take part in the program were supposed to have their end of the program up and running in April.
But this summer, NBC 5 Investigates found that AT&T was not able to deliver those alerts to its smartphone customers in the DFW area.
In June, AT&T told NBC 5 Investigates in a statement that: "We're not currently ready in Dallas, but we're working aggressively to get there."
FEMA, one of the agencies in charge of the system, told NBC 5 Investigates in June that it was ready to deliver on its part.
"The news release said that the FEMA portion of the system was established and running nationwide, and that's not a misstatement -- that's correct," Damon Penn, FEMA assistant administrator of national continuity programs, said in June. "Again, what part the carriers play and where the carriers are at in the process really depends on the carriers."
Wireless carriers Sprint Nextel Corp., Verizon Communications Inc. and T-Mobile USA Inc. told NBC 5 Investigates that they were ready to deliver alerts nationwide this summer to any smartphone capable of receiving them
Rep. Joe Barton, who was involved in creating the alert system, told NBC 5 Investigates that wireless companies would work quickly to close any gaps in coverage because customers would demand it.
"That's what will ultimately drive 100 percent implementation, is someone will say, 'Verizon has it all,' or, 'Sprint has it all,'" he said.
Smartphone users with phones capable of receiving WEA alerts whose wireless company participates in the program do not need to sign up for the alerts. The system works automatically; phone will receive an alert if it's turned on and is located in any city where an alert is issued.
AT&T offers 11 smartphones that can receive WEA alerts. The iPhone currently is not one of them. However, Sprint and Verizon say they can deliver alerts to their iPhone subscribers.
Smartphone customers can check with their wireless carrier for more information about service area coverage and whether their phone is WEA-ready.