No, you should probably not turn off Amber, emergency, and public safety alerts on your iPhone. These government notifications are used to warn you about imminent natural disasters, active shooters, and terrorist attacks. More frequently, they ask for your help with child abductions. The alerts save lives, but it's still up to you whether you want to get them or not.
Emergency and government alerts pushed out to your iPhone can be loud and abrasive, and that's to make sure they get your attention, but those overzealous notifications is a legitimate reason to want to disable them for good.
But before going any further, let me reiterate: You should keep emergency and government alerts on. Who knows when your life, or the lives of your friends and family, may depend on them. Groups like FEMA, the National Weather Service, the Department of Homeland Security, and local government agencies send out these alerts via the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). They're not just random, and they can be useful as well as informative.
Still, you should know how to turn them off on your iPhone if, for example, you're in the middle of nowhere (where the alerts wouldn't even help you). Also, if you're in the hospital (where you can't do anything with the information you learn) or you just need a short break from the terrifying sound they make (because everyone's been frightened by an Amber Alert at least once in their life, right?).
Before we get into disabling the emergency and government alerts, it's essential you know what they are. There are three government alerts available on the iPhone (not in all countries):
- Amber: Stands for "America's Missing Broadcast Emergency Response." These alerts are for very serious (and local to you) child-abduction cases.
- Emergency: These alerts are for possible emergencies such as extreme weather conditions.
- Public Safety: These alerts involve imminent threats to safety or life.
If you've never seen an alert, they look similar to other notifications you receive on your iPhone, except they're accompanied by a loud sound, even if you're on silent. Below are a couple of examples of government alerts in the United States (left) and Canada (right).
Note that, at this time, there is no way to disable mandatory Presidential alerts, but anything via IPAWS, whether from the Emergency Alert System (EAS), National Warning System (NAWAS), Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), or NOAA Weather Radio, can be disabled. All alerts are sent via IPAWS to participating carriers who push them out from cell towers to mobile devices.
To turn off government alerts on your iPhone, go into the Settings app, then into "Notifications." Scroll to the bottom, and you'll see the three types of government alerts — "AMBER Alerts," "Emergency Alerts," and "Public Safety Alerts." All of these are on by default. To disable one or all of them, simply tap on the toggle to the right of each one.
If you live in the United States and have a plan with a US carrier or are visiting the US with a US-based SIM card, you're able to receive test emergency alerts. These are similar to the regular government alerts, except that they're tests meant to both test the system and to prepare you for an actual emergency. Local governments determine the frequency of these alerts, as well as the content.
While these test emergency alerts are disabled by default, you may have enabled them in the past. How, you might ask? To turn on test emergency alerts, you must call the dialer code *5005*25371# from the Phone keypad on your iPhone. Luckily, turning off test emergency alerts is very similar:
Call that number from your Phone app, and an alert that says "Test alerts disabled" will appear, signaling that the alerts have been turned off.
This article was produced during Gadget Hacks' special coverage on texting, instant messaging, calling, and audio/video chatting with your smartphone. Check out the whole Chat series.