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Wireless Emergency Alert Messages Raise Questions in Texoma

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LAWTON Okla_ If you received an alarming text last night, you weren't alone. All over our viewing area, people got an Amber Alert on their smart phones.

It's all a part of a new system called the Wireless Emergency Alert or WEA, and the messages are automatic. The problem is the information in last night's text was sketchy, only giving a vehicle description and telling people to check with their local news. On top of that, the event happened in far northeast Oklahoma, with no real impact here.

Some people here got the text, and others didn't. It all depended on your carrier and your phone. The major carriers we have here in Texoma have the alert system, but not all phones. Most iPhone customers with AT&T received nothing. A Verizon iPhone user most likely did. So there are glitches, but the fact remains the same. This system was put in place to save lives.

4 year old Justice Poindexter is back with his father after he went missing for nearly 5 hours last night. Many already knew about the case after receiving a surprising text. Cell phone companies have partnered with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to offer this service. Spokesman Robert Hoever said this service will improve on the emergency alert system.

"The entire intent is to try and notify as many of the public as possible," Hoever said. "The more eyes and ears that are trying to find the child, the better the successes are of finding that child."

When the Amber Alert coordinator in Oklahoma issues an alert, the national center is notified. They then redistribute the Alert to a geographically defined area.

"Law enforcement agencies define that area based on the investigation of the child's disappearance," Hoever said.

There was an issue with this last night. Bixby Police Department handled the case, and they didn't know why people in Lawton received the texts or why the text came after the boy was found. Beyond those problems, the text itself left people puzzled. All it has is the license plate number and the description of the car. Mr. Hoever does have an explanation for that.

"With the wireless and FEMA restrictions, we're only given 90 characters," Hoever said. "Pretty much, the only thing we can put is vehicle information."

He said it's a difficult task to get the public's attention with no phone numbers, photographs or websites attached. That's why you probably noticed a unique alert when the text came.

The text will go to all enabled devices in the affected area, even if someone is from somewhere else. These are big advancements, but Hoever said it's worth it to get the public's help.

"To date, we have 602 children that have been safely rescued and returned," Hoever said, "Specifically because of the Amber Alert program and the public's participation."

Gene Thaxton, the Amber Alert Coordinator for Oklahoma, said he is even a little confused about the system right now. He is going to a meeting about the WEA system tomorrow and will know more then.

You can count on 7News to keep you updated on the status of this system.

The Amber Alert is only one of three alerts through the new WEA system. You will also get texts about severe weather and national communication from the president if needed. You can opt out of the Amber Alert and weather texts, but not the presidential ones.

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