Government now issues emergency alerts directly to your smartphone

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- An Amber Alert issued Thursday gave many Triad cellphone users a taste of the new Wireless Emergency Alert System, also known as the Commercial Mobile Alert System.

"I thought it was just a regular text message," said Donna Carr of Winston-Salem who questioned where the alert was coming from. "I had no idea how I got it, how I signed up for it but I liked it."

Congress created the system in 2006, which basically expands emergency alerts to cell phones.

FEMA, in partnership with the FCC, runs the system which cost $106 million dollars to put in place.

The system that began operating last year, sends Amber Alerts, Weather Alerts and if needed, Presidential Alerts.

"I was a little shocked by it," said Olivia McNeill when she received the alert Thursday. "I think some people are going to like them, some people are going to dislike them. I'm one of the people who is kind of on the fence about it."

You can opt-out from receiving the Amber and Weather Alerts under the "settings" on your smartphone.

Congress decided you cannot opt-out of a Presidential alert, which would only be sent in the case of national security.

All the major wireless phone companies, Sprint, Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T began participating last summer, though, according to the AT&T's website, they are not available on AT&T iPhones.

The alerts are turned on as a default on all new smartphones, which surprised many people Thursday, who didn't know the government had a direct link to their phone.

"The user should be made aware," said Ari Tuchman, a student at Wake Forest University.

"I think it's a good way for the 21st century to be brought into all of our lives."