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BOULDER, Colo. (KDVR) — The City of Boulder’s upgraded emergency alert system is up and running and FOX31 got an exclusive first look at how it works.

The Wireless Emergency Alert system went live Tuesday, activating the city’s ability to mass-message people in a particular geographic zone. Messages will go to people’s cell phones — regardless of whether they signed up for the service.

“You don’t need to opt in or subscribe to anything, so it could really reach a lot more people. It expands our bandwidth in that regard,” City of Boulder 911 Police Communications Manager Brad Riggin said. “It also can be sent to those people that are away from their homes, their businesses, to unhoused individuals and people that are visiting an area.”

A group of city officials in charge of sending out these messages to people’s phones trained with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the software company to implement FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. 

“The IPAWS alerts are reserved for life-threatening, immediate emergencies that are going to affect a large part of the population,” Riggin said. “So, any hazard like a flood, a wildfire like we saw recently, even an act of crime in some cases, we can send them out for that.”

How Boulder’s new emergency alert system works

Riggin said the message will appear on a screen, looking and sounding like Amber Alerts during big emergency situations. 

Based on how old a person’s phone is, the message length is limited and older phones may get alerts from events happening farther away.

People with newer phones that have a more advanced capability of figuring out whether they’re inside or outside the area will only receive the message if they’re within a 10th of a mile of the described area.

Riggin said messages to all phones will include a link to the City of Boulder’s Twitter account where officials will post live, longer updates on the emergency.

“That information might include evacuation routes or something that’s important that we can’t fit into that short WEA message,” Riggin said.

The County of Boulder will likely have its new system implemented ahead next month in April, according to the director of the Boulder Office of Disaster Management Mike Chard.

For your best chance of receiving all possible alerts to danger in your location as well as where you live or loved ones may be, officials say it is important to still make sure you are opted in to traditional alerts too. You can sign up here for the city and county opt-in alerts.