AMBER Alert alarm wakes up thousands in Tampa Bay

2:19 PM, Jan 14, 2013   |    comments
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Tampa, Florida -- A blaring alarm woke up thousands of people in Tampa Bay early Monday, for an alert sent 150 miles away.

"Everybody woke up thinking, 'What the heck's going on?'" Ismanuela Morange said.

"It sounded like a siren -- like 'wee ooooh.' And everybody's just busting out, going, 'What is that?' Thought the house was on fire."

The panic and confusion inside Morange's house mirrored the scene in thousands of bedrooms across Florida just before 2 o'clock Monday morning.

Many smart phones on Verizon and Sprint's networks beeped, chimed, and buzzed with an AMBER Alert message. The statewide alert was sent by investigators at the scene where a 2-year-old disappeared southeast of Ft. Myers.

That little girl was found safe a few hours later.

The state says the original reporting agency controls what areas get sent the alert. Collier County requested this one go all over Florida.

That meant phones lit up the night 150 miles away in Tampa Bay.

There are three basic kinds of Wireless Emergency Alerts, all sent by government agencies to newer smart phones:

- Amber Alerts for missing children.
- Imminent Danger Alerts mainly for local severe weather.
- Presidential alerts sent nationwide by the White House.

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Presidential alerts are always "on," but here's how you can turn on or off the other two kinds.

On an Android phone, go into your Messages, then under the menu, choose Settings. Scroll down to "Emergency alerts" and check or uncheck the boxes.

On an iPhone, tap Settings, then Notifications. At the bottom, you'll find the options to toggle the alerts on or off.

You can turn them off, but folks like Morange say a few late-night wake-ups are worth it if it one day helps reunite a family.

"It's good even though the noise is annoying. But it's good, though. At least it keeps us safe," she said.

If your phone is more than a year or two old, it likely will not receive the Wireless Emergency Alerts, which display on your phone sort of like a free text message.

You can get emergency weather information here through 10 News Weathercall and AMBER Alert emails and text messages here from FDLE.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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