It may have startled you, a warning sign appearing on your cell phone, letting you know about a Flash Flood Warning Tuesday night in our area.

The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) is a fairly new government system, run with the help of phone companies.

Most people have a cell phone these days and majority have a smartphone, so it only makes sense that one of the quickest ways to alert the public about an emergency is through a cell phone.

A WEA is like getting a text. The system went into effect in Dane County about a year and a half ago. Since then, it's only been used here a handful of times.

Wireless carriers push the alerts from cell towers to cell phones in an emergency zone. Even phones that are roaming, prepaid or folks visiting from another state will receive the alert.

You don't not need to sign up for this service, and best of all the alerts are free.

The alerts are only sent out for the following critical emergency situations:
1. Alerts issued by the president
2. Alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life
3. Amber alerts

Right now, newer phones and smartphones can receive the alerts, some older models may be able to. Check with your wireless carrier to check if your device is capable of receiving the alerts.

For more information on WEA head to:
www.transition.fcc.gov/cgb/consumerfacts/wea.pdf