Wireless alerts are used for "calls to action"

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (KSNB) - A tool a couple of years in the works that is just recently being utilized, is helping officials in Grand Island when they need the public's help, or need to get a warning out to them.

They system is called Wireless Emergency Alerts. When police on the scene and emergency communications officials face a situation they feel needs public action, they can push a message out that is delivered from wireless towers covering the general area of the incident.

While not a precision locator, it helps get messages to people near the scene.

"The wireless emergency alert is a blunt tool," said Jon Rosenlund, the Emergency Management Director for the City of Grand Island and Hall County. "There's no tightening it down to just a few blocks. Depending on your carrier, and the device you have, you may live some distance from the area and get the message."

Sunday evening a girl with special needs was missing. A message with her description and the area involved was distributed. Within minutes of the message going out, people were able to guide police to the missing girl and she was taken home safely.

Officials only want to use the system when and where it's needed.

"When we need the public to react in a certain way, then we'll use WEA," said Rosenlund.

Rosenlund said that's why people should know to take the alerts seriously when they are issued.

"With that opportunity also comes the responsibility that we use it well," said Rosenlund. "We don't 'cry wolf'. We limit (it) to the use of, there's some serious danger, life safety message that has to go out. And, some action that we need the public to take."

Messages are limited in length, so care is taken to craft a quick message that includes the area involved.