State utilized rare cell phone alert to warn drivers of interstate closure Tuesday
BATON ROUGE - The state used the federal Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system to send notifications to cell phone users across Louisiana warning them about an interstate closure Tuesday.
Mike Steele, the spokesperson for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, said the notification was sent after discussions with officials in Texas who were making decisions about closing I-10 west of Lake Charles at the state line because of flooding. Steele said given the unusual nature, and the heavy traffic patterns of the I-10 corridor, the state sought permission from federal authorities to utilize the WEA system.
A similar alert was sent using radio signals, too.
A WEA comes with a short message and is accompanied by a phone buzzing and vibrating to get the user's attention. Most often, a WEA is sent to warn people about severe weather situations or AMBER Alerts. While its use was unusual Tuesday, the state said it was the most effective way of reaching a mass amount of people to warn them that a major highway was closing. Though, the message was sent after Texas notified Louisiana it had closed its stretch of interstate but reopened it shortly after Louisiana drivers were notified. Eventually, both states decided to close I-10 west of Lake Charles Tuesday afternoon. The
DOTD had been warning motorists flood water was approaching the interstate and its closure was expected Tuesday.
Wireless Emergency Alerts are sent at no cost to customers and are sent to phones connected to certain cell phone towers. WEA capabilities were available beginning in April 2012, but many mobile devices, especially older ones, are not WEA-capable. When you buy a new mobile device, it probably will be able to receive WEA messages. WEA messages are not affected by network congestion.