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Emergency Text Alerts: How to Send Urgent Updates in Times of Crisis

Published: Jun 9, 2022

When heavy smoke engulfed several parts of Queensland, Australia, in 2019, a transportation industry union was quick to send emergency text alerts to its members.

To ensure all members know the seriousness of the situation and ensure safety, the union (name withheld) sent nearly 500 emergency text alerts through CallHub.

Today’s smoke haze has drastically deteriorated air quality. Your employer should be providing P2 masks for any work being conducted outdoors. Please reply YES or NO to this message to confirm or not if P2 masks are available in your workplace.

Such text alerts can send urgent news to a large group within minutes and can avert a crisis. Here’s how your organization can send such updates. Let’s look at the limitations and advantages:

What is an emergency text alert system?

An emergency text alert system is a machine-to-person communication that needs to be quick and delivered to a large group at one time. Governmental institutions and unions, businesses, educational institutions, etc. can use them to send instant updates or alerts.

Emergency text messages can be classified into three types:

  • Warnings
  • Notifications
  • Urgent reminders

The federal government or its partners (like state or local governments) use Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to send all citizens warnings. Other organizations have a more limited audience to send such texts and can only send them to people who have opted in to receive emergency text alerts.

Common use cases for emergency text messages and examples for non-federal governmental organizations include:

Police departments

For search and rescue, accident warnings, traffic notifications, AMBER, or Blue alerts.


School text alerts for administrators

Schools commonly use text alerts to notify school lockdowns, emergency incidents, changes in timings, and events.


Example of a school text alert.

Local government bodies

Send out public service announcements, weather emergency alerts, and natural disaster alerts.



Unions send text alerts for notifications and alerts. They typically include members, volunteers as well as other participants in their contact lists for such messaging.



An emergency text alert system for businesses sends alerts and urgent notifications to employees.


What is the difference between WEA and other emergency text alert systems?

WEA Emergency text alerts
WEA alerts can be sent by
• Authorized local and state public safety officials
• National Weather Service
• National Center for Missing and Exploited Children
• The president of the United States
Other emergency text alerts can be sent by local or state government departments as well as private institutions.
WEA emergency alerts look like text messages. However, they have a unique sound and vibration alert. These notifications are repeated twice.  They are standard text alerts and will have the same notification sounds and vibration as the person has set on their phone.
Such emergency alerts are <360 characters. The message includes the time and type of alert. It also contains the agency that issued it. Non-WEA alerts are typically <160 characters and may or may not include the action you must take or the agency name. The time of the alert is displayed by your phone, not necessarily by the message content.
WEA alerts don’t get affected by network congestions. They will also not disrupt your text, call, or data sessions that are in progress. These text alert messages can be affected by network congestions.
Citizens need not subscribe to WEAs. They are not charged for such incoming messages.
They are not charged for receiving WEAs, and there is no need to subscribe.
People receiving your alert text blasts need to have opted-in to receive alert text blasts. Typically, they are not charged to receive the messages.
Types of messages sent under WEA:
• Presidential alerts 
• Extreme weather emergency alerts
• Local emergencies
• AMBER alerts
• Blue alerts
Types of messages that fall under this category:
• Workplace emergency
• Product recalls
• Workplace notifications
• Neighborhood alerts



WEA example



Emergency text message example


Related Reading: Staying Compliant With Your Texting Campaigns

How do you send an emergency text?

A business, educational institution, or other private or semi-private institutions may need to update their employees or customers about an emergency and actions to be taken. A text broadcast is one of the quickest, surest ways to alert a large group of people in a short time.

  • Text messages have a 98% open rate. That means your alert is most likely to be read.
  • Broadcast messages require people to opt-in first. When they do, text messaging software can send up to 100 messages every second so you can reach out to a large group in a short time.
  • A text message allows you to include vital information like location, time, relevant links, and more in a single space- unlike phone calls, which take longer to convey the same information.
  • Text messages can be sent to all mobile phones– irrespective of whether they are smartphones or connected to the internet.

To set up sms emergency alerts for your organization, follow these steps:

Step 1: Sign up for an emergency text alert system like CallHub. 

How to build a list of subscribers for emergency text alerts

After you sign up but before creating an emergency broadcast text: 

Set up a keyword that conveys what your messages are for (eg., EMERGENCY/ALERTS). Promote the keyword among your employees or other contacts (for instance, students and parents, in the case of a school or college) and ask them to opt in.

To opt-in:

Text the keyword to the dedicated number → Respond with an affirmative on your confirmation message.

After a person opts-in:

When a person opts-in (sends the designated keyword to your number), send them a confirmation message with the following content:

  1. Confirmation about their opt-in
  2. Outline the nature of texts they can expect 
  3. An easy way to opt out.

You can also include a form on your website to drive traffic to your contact lists. Learn all about high-quality list building in our guide: List building – New inbound marketing channels you cannot ignore!

Step 2: Log in to your account and click on “Create” under Text Broadcast.


Step 3 Targeting: 

Upload a contact list of subscribers and rent a number that you want to appear as the caller ID for your emergency text alerts.

In the USA, 10-Digit Long Codes can send up to one message per second. Short codes can send up to 100 messages/second. 
To ensure messages don’t get delayed by over an hour, rent a shortcode for contact lists of >3600 leads.

Register a 10DLC number now to avoid getting filtered by carriers and optimize your throughput. Know more about 10DLC here.

Step 4: Script: Type in your emergency text alert. 


Step 5: Settings: 

Set the number of retry attempts and the time between the retries. 

  • If your text alert is relatively low cost (traffic jams, mild weather notifications, etc.), you can keep the number of retry attempts low. 
  • If they are high cost (mishaps at the workplace, severe weather emergency alerts, etc.), don’t hesitate to set more retry attempts every few minutes.

Step 6: Create a test campaign. 

This will help you test possible error scenarios. You don’t want any delays when facing an actual emergency.


Once the test is complete, you can send the texts immediately or schedule them for a later date.

Start your free trial of CallHub text alert software.

Text Alert system FAQs

How do I get wireless emergency alerts?


How do I get emergency text alerts on my phone?

  1. Send the keyword (eg., EMERGENCY) to the dedicated number of your agency to opt in. The process is the same for any mobile phone.
  2. The agency will typically send an automated message asking you to confirm your opt-in. Send your confirmation.
  3. Done! 

How many people can receive text alerts at one time?

A long code (or mobile number) is legally allowed to send up to 1 message per second, in the USA. A shortcode can send up to 100 messages per second.

Is there a free text alert system?

CallHub offers a free trial to test our text messaging software. You can design an emergency text alert campaign and try your hand at the software before sending a text message and emergency alert. You will be charged per outgoing message thereafter.

Yes. Our MMS blast software enables you to add visuals like images, videos, and gifs in your broadcasts. Links can be added in MMS as well as SMS broadcasts.

Emergency text alerts have the potential to save lives. As an organization sending such phone alerts, it is important to note:

  1. Your public safety alert must contain ALL information in one message. There should be no delay in sending vital information.
  2. Do not send inappropriate content or messages at odd times. 
  3. Send alerts only when there is a real emergency. Sending unnecessary messages may be seen as a crying wolf, and people may opt out.

Follow best practices of sending text blasts, so your contacts value every message you send and you create successful text campaigns

Sign up to start your free trial on CallHub here.

Feature Image Source: San Francisco Foghorn/Flickr

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