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Cell Towers to Blame for No Amber Alert Text

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LAWTON Okla_ We've got new information about the surprising Amber Alert text that some of you got Monday night.

Thousands of cell phones in our area received the alert, but some phones didn't get the message at all. An official with the State Department of Public Safety told 7News today, it depends on your phone and your carrier.

Gene Thaxton said most phones that are at least two years old are not configured to get the message.  The newer ones are though, and if you didn't get the message, it's because your carrier's tower hasn't been updated.   

The system is a modernized version of the old Emergency Alert System, but it's brand new. It was only implemented a month-and-a-half ago. Because it's so new, it's catching everyone a little off guard, even the cell phone companies.

The system was put in place to communicate effectively and save lives, but in order for that to happen, each carrier has to provide the right technology.

"It is their responsibility to put the technology on that tower to be able to disseminate that emergency alert," Thaxton said.

Thaxton said Verizon appears to have done the best job of that, so far, but the others aren't far behind.

"The vendors are moving very quickly to make sure that information in those towers is updated to receive those alerts," Thaxton said.

That problem may be fixed, but unfortunately, there's a few more. The 90-character text limit is leaving recipients with questions. The text on Monday didn't even have a city name.

"We're working to see if we can't put the city name or the location where the amber alert has occurred," Thaxton said.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children would rather use that space for "Check local media", to keep them from having to send out an "all clear" message.

"They're entrusting that the people would monitor the local radio stations or TV stations to get that information," Thaxton said.

People will have to do that regularly, especially since the tower holds the message for 24 hours. It's put in place to ensure everyone gets the message, but it also could mean more confusion, if you didn't turn on your phone until hours after the message was sent.

Thaxton recognizes all of the problems and is working with others to figure them out. He said he knows the hard work will pay off.

"If it saves the life of one child it's a great addition," Thaxton said.

I did reach out to cell phone carriers to get their input. AT&T said they are working to deploy the CMAS service to as many devices as possible, as quickly as possible. Sprint said their towers are up to date and think customers need to activate their phones to fix the problem. US Cellular responded generically about the system, and T-Mobile didn't issue a statement.

Remember you can opt out of the Amber Alert and imminent threat texts, but not the presidential one. To do that, you need to contact your provider.

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