Emergency alert for alleged NYC bomber Ahmad Khan Rahami rightfully freaked people out


Emergency alerts on mobile phones for bad weather or missing children are fairly routine these days, but the search for alleged New York City bomber Ahmed Khan Rahami has introduced a new level of cooperation between wireless providers, police departments and federal emergency personnel.

The alert was sent to mobile phones in the New York City tri-state area just before 8 a.m. by CTIA, an international nonprofit that works with the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to issue wireless emergency alerts. 

"Today's use of Wireless Emergency Alerts is one of thousands of examples that show the partnership that wireless carriers have with FEMA-authorized alerting agencies around the country to help keep Americans safe," Meredith Atwell Baker, President and CEO of CTIA, told Mic in an email. 


Mobile phone users get three types of alerts: presidential alerts, or those issued by a president or designee; imminent threat alerts, which include severe man-made or natural disasters; and AMBER alerts, which meet the U.S. Department of Justice's criteria to help locate kidnapped children. 

Andrew Griffin at the Independent called out the alert, particularly because there was no way around it for iPhone users, since Apple's settings allow government officials to bypass "do not disturb" and notification preferences. 

The alert came minutes after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio identified Rahami as the main suspect in Saturday's bombing in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, which sent 29 people to the hospital with minor injuries. 

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

While the manhunt for Rahami is underway, people were noticeably disturbed by law enforcement agencies identifying a criminal suspect using an emergency response system.

The alert was especially troubling given the highly racialized contours of the United States's war on terror. Rahami, a 28-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Afghanistan, is officially wanted by New York City law enforcement for questioning. But some on Twitter worry that the alert will spark hysteria, similar to when the New York Post misidentified the wrong person in the Boston Marathon bombing

Sept. 19, 2016, 1:47 p.m.: This post has been updated.