If you've had severe weather in your area lately, you may have noticed something different - a text message beamed directly to your phone, regardless of whether or not you ever subscribed to receive such texts, and even regardless of whether or not you have texting enabled on your phone. The National Weather Service is making use of a law passed in April that allows emergency messages to be sent to mobile phone users.
The alerts obviously don't cost any money. The top three carriers including AT&T and Verizon have enabled access. This system was tested earlier this year and made news when a message about a terrorist attack was sent to mobile customers in New Jersey, without any warning that it was only a test. But now, the system is up and running and sending legitimate messages.
For example, a flood warning in New York City earlier this week triggered millions of SMS messages to people in the tri-state area, if they owned a phone on a major carrier. However, that doesn't necessarily include those with an iPhone. Apparently the existing version of iOS doesn't support the automatic texting system, and it will - in order to comply with the law - in iOS 6. But it will allow users to opt out from those alerts. The only messages that can not be averted are "Presidential Alerts," which are used for national security.