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I heard there was a planned test of the emergency alert system in the United States today, October 4, at 2:20 PM. To avoid being disrupted, I turned off all alerts in Settings -> Notifications (one of which is actually labeled "Test Alerts").

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However, I was quite surprised when, at 2:20, my phone still showed the alert, vibrated, and played a loud sound despite being on silent with all alerts off.

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Why did my iPhone not respect my choice to have emergency alerts turned off?

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    @MonkeyZeus Someone mentioned recently the idea of a "safety phone" that is hidden and secret, perhaps in the context of domestic abuse or similar, where one party hides a working phone from another party. This kind of attention-getter could be detrimental, so yeah there are limited situations where disablng all alerts would help.
    – Criggie
    Oct 5, 2023 at 19:15

1 Answer 1

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According to the FCC (emphasis mine):

WEA alerts only cover critical emergency situations. Consumers can receive four types of alerts:

  • "National Alerts" issued by the President of the United States or the Administrator of FEMA;
  • "Imminent Threat" alerts involving imminent threats to safety or life;
  • "AMBER Alerts" about missing children; and
  • "Public Safety Messages" conveying recommendations for saving lives and property.

Participating carriers may allow subscribers to block all but National Alerts.

The test conducted on October 4th at 2:20 Eastern Time was a "National Alert". As required by law, there is no setting to turn off this type of alert, so even with all alerts turned off, the alert still sounds.

See this related question and answer.

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    So the only solution would be to hard-poweroff the device before the test.
    – Criggie
    Oct 5, 2023 at 3:54
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    @Criggie I presume you'd still get the alert when you boot. But I also presume the carrier would not hold such a message for you forever. There's a number of ways I could see this going, but some level where the carrier saves the message for you when you boot makes sense.
    – user68964
    Oct 5, 2023 at 4:04
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    @user68964 The alert is simply broadcast. It's not like a text message which is targeted at your phone and can be held until received. You may even receive the alert from a different service provider if you are out of range of your own (much like you can make an emergency call on a different provider's network in extremis.) Oct 5, 2023 at 8:04
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    You can also put your device into airplane mode. Oct 5, 2023 at 12:01
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    @user68964 The message was broadcast for 30 minutes, from 2:20 to 2:50. I assume other tests will be similar. This means that, as long as you keep your phone off or in airplane mode for that entire time, you will not get it. If you enable cellular any time in the 30 minute window the alert will sound.
    – gfrung4
    Oct 5, 2023 at 12:57

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