Phone alerts shouldn’t be overused — and, so far, aren’t

The fact that many Massachusetts cellphone users had never heard an emergency alert on their phone before last Tuesday night is a good indication that the feature hasn’t been over-used. In a special emergency, authorities can send out a warning to all cellphones in a geographic area. That’s what happened at 10:38 p.m. on Tuesday, when the National Weather Service sent out a flash-flood warning.

As it turns out, flooding was minimal, and some users complained about the loud and unusual alert. But weather is by its nature volatile, and just because the flooding didn’t materialize doesn’t mean the alert was unjustified. And as for the jarring sound: Alarms are supposed to be alarming. Had the emergency been worse, the buzzing could have saved lives.

Obviously, officials should use the system judiciously — and so far, it seems, they have. Only state and local public safety officials, the National Weather Service, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the president can send out alerts. The information they provide can be a matter of life and death; still, for cellphone users who absolutely can’t tolerate the remote chance of having their evening disturbed, they can always turn off their phones.

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