What’s a Civil Emergency Message mean and How to Respond

Ever been startled by an abrupt alert popping up on your phone screen, or a disruptive broadcast over your radio, labeled as a “Civil Emergency Message”?

These notifications, often accompanied by a jarring sound, can be unnerving. But, they serve an incredibly important function.

In this blog post, we’ll dissect what Civil Emergency Messages (CEM) mean, their purpose, and how we should respond to them.

Introduction to Civil Emergency Messages

A Civil Emergency Message, often abbreviated as CEM, is an urgent alert issued by authorities, such as local government, law enforcement, or emergency management officials, to inform the public about an imminent threat or ongoing severe hazard that can affect life and property.

This mechanism is part of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) – systems designed to deliver critical information promptly to ensure public safety.

CEMs differ from other emergency alerts like AMBER or weather alerts in terms of their broad scope and serious implications.

They encompass a wide range of incidents including, but not limited to, hazardous materials spills, extreme weather conditions, civil disorders, and even potential terrorist threats.

Interpreting a Civil Emergency Message

A Civil Emergency Message typically has three main components:

  1. The Alert Tone: This is the attention-grabbing signal that precedes the message. It’s meant to capture your immediate attention.
  2. The Message: The actual information about the emergency. This typically includes the nature of the emergency, the areas it affects, and the expected duration.
  3. The Instructions: The message concludes with vital instructions or recommendations on how the public should react to the emergency. It might involve seeking shelter, evacuating, or avoiding certain areas.

How to Respond to a Civil Emergency Message

The crucial point of a CEM is not just to alert, but to guide the public in times of crisis. Here’s how you should respond:

  1. Stay Calm: Panic won’t help the situation. Stay as calm as possible and focus on understanding the information provided.
  2. Understand the Message: Read or listen to the message carefully. Comprehend the nature of the emergency and the area affected.
  3. Follow Instructions: Abide by the instructions given in the alert. This could mean evacuating, sheltering in place, or avoiding a particular location.
  4. Stay Informed: Keep track of updates. Emergency situations can change rapidly, and authorities may send out new information or instructions.
  5. Spread the Word: If it’s safe to do so, alert others around you who may not have received the message.


Civil Emergency Messages are crucial tools in ensuring public safety during emergencies.

Understanding what they mean and how to respond can make a significant difference when disaster strikes.

It’s an embodiment of the old adage, “Forewarned is forearmed.” Remember, these alerts are there for your safety and the safety of those around you, so take them seriously and respond accordingly. Stay safe!

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