About Alerts

Public safety officials can use emergency alert and warning systems to send messages to the public via cellphones, landline phones, radio, and television. Learn more and get answers to common questions.

TYPES OF ALERTS

 

  *PublicAlerts
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Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) Emergency Alert System (EAS)
Text Message  
Cell Call    
Landline Call    
Email    
Television    
Radio    
*PublicAlerts is the opt-in alerting system in the Portland Metro Region. It is called OR-ALERT elsewhere in Oregon. These opt-in messages can also be sent to fax machines and the Everbridge App. 

PublicAlerts is called OR-ALERT in Oregon outside of the Portland Metro Region. 

TYPES OF EMERGENCIES

  • Extreme weather (flooding, landslide, etc.) and other local emergencies requiring evacuation, shelter in place, or other immediate life-safety action
  • Critical utility outages (boil water notice, power shutoff to reduce wildfire risk, etc.) 
  • Request for help locating a lost and/or endangered person
  • Police activity 

WHO SENDS PUBLIC ALERTS

  • City and county public safety and public health officials in the Portland Metro Region

HOW TO RECEIVE A PUBLIC ALERT

  • You must sign up or “opt-in” to receive this type of alert. Each county has its own unique PublicAlerts system. Visit PublicAlerts.org/SignUp or ORAlert.gov to find your county’s link. Some landline, internet, and cell phone numbers are automatically registered.
  • You will only receive this type of alert if the address(es) you provided when signing up is in an affected area. It’s a good idea to enter all of the addresses where you live, work, attend school, etc. This is especially true if you have vulnerable loved ones who are often away from you. For example, if your children are in school across town and there's an emergency in that area - you would want to get an alert for this! You might need to register in several counties. 
  • How you receive the alert depends on your preferences when signing up, this alert can be sent as an email, landline phone call, internet phone call, cell phone call, or cell phone text message.

LIMITATIONS OF PUBLIC ALERTS

  • You must sign up or “opt-in” to receive PublicAlerts. Many people have not signed up and will not receive these alerts. However, all landline phones are automatically in the system, and some cell and internet phone numbers are as well. So some people may receive these alerts even if they didn’t sign up. 
  • Alerts get sent to people based on the address(es) they provided when signing up - not where people are at the time of the emergency. While this may be helpful for some people, it could be confusing for others. 
  • Landline calls for large-scale emergencies go out in small batches. This prevents phone systems from crashing but it can take hours to complete. Time-sensitive messages might not reach people in time.  
  • Most messages are sent only in English. Agencies may also send bilingual messages. 
  • You might get many versions of the same alert if you registered many addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. You may find this helpful or confusing and frustrating. It can keep you aware of what's happening to loved ones in other parts of town. 
  • Cell phones that are turned off, in “Wi-Fi only” mode, or "airplane mode" won’t get these alerts.

TYPES OF EMERGENCIES

  • Extreme weather (flooding, landslide, etc.) and other local emergencies requiring evacuation, shelter in place, or other immediate life-safety action
  • Child abduction alerts (AMBER Alerts) 
  • Presidential alerts during a national emergency

WHO SENDS WEA ALERTS

  • Federal, state, or local public safety and public health officials 
  • The National Weather Service
  • The President of the United States

HOW TO RECEIVE A WEA

  • You do not need to sign up to receive a WEA. Most cell phones in an impacted area will automatically receive it. 
  • The exact message you receive will vary depending on your cell service provider, cell phone type, and cell phone settings. The message might be shorter (90 characters) or longer (360 characters), include a website link or not, and be in English and Spanish or only English. 
  • When a cell phone receives a WEA, it makes a loud, unique sound and vibration which repeats twice. Only WEA alerts will use this sound and vibration pattern. 

HOW TO MAKE SURE YOUR PHONE CAN RECEIVE A WEA

  • You must have a cell phone that accepts WEA messages. Most modern cell phones can, but contact your cellphone company if you are unsure. 
  • Never opt-out of receiving WEAs or other emergency alerts. If you are not receiving WEAs, check the settings on your mobile device. The alerts menu typically is in the notification settings menu. Review your user manual or search for instructions online if you have trouble finding it. If you cannot find the settings, contact your wireless provider. 
  • Make sure your cell phone is connected to a cellular network. Cell phones in “Wi-Fi only mode” or "airplane mode" won’t get these alerts.
  • You do not need to register to receive a WEA, but sometimes emergency managers test the WEA system. You must opt-in to receive WEA test alerts, and the method for opting in varies by cell phone model. 

LIMITATIONS OF WEA

  • Messages can only be sent in English or Spanish. Spanish messages are only sent if the alerting authority provides the message in Spanish and your cell phone’s language is set to Spanish. The system will not accept letters with accents, which can change the meaning of some Spanish words. 
  • Messages cannot be sent in audio, video, or other accessible formats. However, some phones offer advanced accessibility settings, such as text-to-speech or reminder tones. There are also mobile apps that can offer similar accessibility enhancements.
  • Messages cannot include detailed information. Most messages are 360 characters or less. Some phones only accept 90-character messages. 
  • Cell phones that are turned off, in “Wi-Fi only” mode, or "airplane mode" won’t get these alerts.

HOW WEA MESSAGES ARE SENT

  • The alerting authority will look at a map of the area where the emergency is taking place. Next, they will decide which areas should receive the alert and how long the alert should stay active. They will draw a polygon shape on the map to indicate the alerting area and set a time for the alert to expire. 
  • If your cell phone is currently in that area, turned on, connected to a cellular network, and capable of receiving a WEA message, you will receive the alert. If you enter the area while the alert is live, your cell phone will get the alert. 
  • Since WEA messages are broadcasted from a cell tower, your device cannot send any information about you, your device, or the WEA message back to your provider or the government. The WEA program cannot be used to track your location or gather your personal data.

LEARN MORE

TYPES OF EMERGENCIES

  • Extreme weather (flooding, landslide, etc.) and other local emergencies requiring evacuation, shelter in place, or other immediate life-safety action
  • Child abduction alerts (AMBER Alerts) 
  • Presidential alerts during a national emergency

WHO SENDS IT

  • Federal, state, or local public safety and public health officials 
  • The National Weather Service
  • The President of the United States

HOW TO RECEIVE AN EAS

  • You do not need to sign up to receive an EAS message. These alerts go to all televisions and radios in the region, state, or country. This includes broadcast FM/AM radio, television (text and audio), and NOAA weather radios. It may also be sent by satellite and streaming services. 
  • An EAS makes a loud, unique sound. Only EAS alerts will use this sound. On televisions, a message will appear as static or scrolling text and may also be spoken aloud. On radios, the message will be spoken. 
  • Broadcasters are responsible for how television messages are displayed (font size, color contrast, images, location on the screen, etc.). 

LIMITATIONS OF EAS

  • EAS messages are only received if someone is watching television or listening to the radio during the alert. 
  • EAS can only go to a very large area because it uses TV and radio stations. The entire region will get the alert, even if the alert provides specific information for a small area.
  • Messages are sent in English. Sometimes Spanish audio and text are used. ASL interpretation is very rarely used. Captions are sometimes displayed too quickly or do not have adequate color contrast. 
  • There is potential for audio quality issues. 
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather alerts that are sent via radio, TV, and radio streaming services
  • Some organizations use other alerting systems, such as FlashAlerts
  • Local news (social media, television, and radio news broadcasts)
  • Text reader boards on highways
  • Digital billboards and message boards (in some areas) 
  • Outdoor sirens (in some areas)
  • Door-to-door notification may happen in some areas. Do not rely upon this. Learn more about how to Stay Informed during an emergency. 

Public agencies have many other methods of sharing information during an emergency.  

  • Websites and social media
  • Town hall meetings
  • Broadcast media (TV, radio, etc.) 
  • Flyers, posters, etc. 
  • Partnerships with community liaisons who have unique ways of staying in touch with the clients they serve

You might not be personally affected by every emergency. 
But others may be in danger, and they will need info. 

You might receive an alert even if you are not affected. Or you might receive more than one alert. This can be frustrating, and you might want to opt out of receiving all future alerts. You can opt out of receiving some types of alerts. We strongly recommend that you do not. You might miss life-saving information during an emergency. 

Why you might receive an alert that doesn’t apply to you.

  • The type of alert sent depends on the type and size of an emergency. In some cases, it may not be possible for alerting authorities to target the exact area of impact. It is especially difficult to target one city or county. For example, an alert might go out to the City of Portland announcing a 911 outage. The alert boundaries are drawn in the shape of a polygon on a map. Some people may get the alert in Vancouver, Beaverton, Gresham, etc.
  • Some phones may receive these alerts up to 20 miles beyond the targeted area. 
  • Some emergencies, like heat waves, impact certain people and not others. Some people are more sensitive to the impacts of heat. Some may not follow social media, news, etc. They need to get alerts by phone. 

Why you might receive multiple alerts. 

  • If you have several addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses listed in PublicAlerts, you may receive multiple alerts. This can be helpful if you have vulnerable loved ones who are often away from you. For example: If your children are in school across town and there's an emergency in that area - you would want to get an alert for this! 
  • If you don’t confirm receipt of a message, the system will try to contact you again through a different method. 
  • If alerting authorities send an alert to a lot of landlines, they will need to send the alert in batches. This will help to avoid crashing phone systems. If they do this, you may receive several alerts even if you already confirmed receipt of one.

How to opt-out of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA): 

  • This is not recommended.
  • Most cell phones are automatically registered, but you can disable the WEA feature on your phone settings. Check with your cell provider for instructions. 
  • You may not opt out of Presidential Alerts.

How to opt-out of PublicAlerts: 

  • This is not recommended.
  • You can update your account and remove your address, phone, and email information. If you do this, you will be less likely to receive alerts during an emergency. To do this, visit PublicAlerts.org/SignUp and follow the link to your county’s system. Log in and update your information. 
  • Most landline phones and some cell phone numbers are automatically registered. 

​​​​​​​How to opt-out of Emergency Alert System (EAS): 

  • These alerts go to radio and television stations. You cannot opt out, but you can turn your TV or radio off. 

COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT PUBLIC ALERTS

If you are unable to sign up yourself, the Multnomah County Aging and Disability Helpline can help you. Call 503-988-3646 between 8am and 5pm Monday through Friday.

PublicAlerts is different. Amber Alerts are part of the federal Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system. The WEA sends alerts to cell phones in a large geographical area. Sometimes local emergency managers want to target a smaller area. The PublicAlerts system allows them to send messages to specific neighborhoods. See above for more info about the different kinds of alerting systems. 

Yes and no. Oregon has a program that allows you to text your zip code to 888777 to sign up for emergency alerts. The system is not yet functional in the Portland Metro Area. You can sign up now, and at some point soon it will work. But you should also sign up for PublicAlerts through your County's registration website.

You can get emergency info from television, radio, and other news outlets. But you won't get information as fast. When a serious emergency occurs, alerts go out through the PublicAlerts, WEA, and EAS systems first. Next, messages go out through government social media accounts and local news stations. Also, the power might be out, so you may not be able to access your television and internet. It's a good idea to have many ways to Stay Informed.

Alerts can cover a range of topics, such as:

  • Hazardous material spills
  • Boil water notices
  • Power outages
  • Large fires or flooding
  • Missing persons
  • Police activity
  • Terrorist incidents
  • Major landslides
  • Road or bridge closures
  • Major traffic issues
  • Public health emergencies
  • School closures
  • Severe weather
  • Volcanic eruptions
  • Other dangers

PublicAlerts is one of many tools public safety professionals use in an emergency. It is not used for all emergencies. It only sends alerts to people in the incident area who have signed up.

If you didn't receive an alert, it's possible that one was not sent, your contact information needs to be updated, or there was an issue with local cell service. 

PublicAlerts.org is a regional website. Each county has a different PublicAlerts registration page. Visit your county's PublicAlerts system to create an account or update your information. If you live, work, go to school, and play in several counties, make sure to sign up in each county's system. 

Most landline phone numbers are already included in the PublicAlerts system. Mobile phone and email addresses are not. Visit your county's PublicAlerts system to create an account or update your information.

Emergency managers can also send alerts using the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system. They can do this even if you haven't signed up. See above for more information. 

The PublicAlerts system is only as good as the information people provide. Log in to your account(s) to update your contact information.

We work very hard to ensure the reliability of the PublicAlerts system. However, it relies on other systems. External phone and internet networks are outside emergency managers' control. We are working with service providers to increase the reliability of these notifications. Below are some examples of service limitations.

  • Email: You might not be able to receive emails if networks get damaged or are at capacity.
  • Text Messages: Most wireless carriers do not guarantee the delivery of text messages. Outages and congestion may impact text messages from PublicAlerts. Check with your wireless service provider to learn more.
  • Telephone: Your landline or wireless carrier may experience network congestion or outages. Or you could have poor reception. This could prevent you from receiving PublicAlerts.
  • Website: PublicAlerts.org can handle high traffic volumes. But your Internet Service Provider (ISP) might experience outages.

Each county's emergency management office controls its own PublicAlerts system. Some cities manage their own system (including Tigard).

PublicAlerts.org is a regional website. Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and Regional Disaster Preparedness Organization maintain the website. Partner agencies contribute to the content. 

No. PublicAlerts only uses the information that you provide for sending emergency alert and warning messages. We will never sell or give your information to any vendor or other organization.

When you visit your county's alert signup page, you may notice a logo for Everbridge. This is the company that makes the software that public safety officials use to send alerts.