San Francisco International Airport has become the first in the nation to receive approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to send emergency text messages directly to any cell phone onsite—devices belonging to passengers included.
The warning system will work something like Amber Alert notifications used in response to child abductions: In the event of an emergency, travelers will receive a text on their smartphones, accompanied by an audio alarm.
According to USA Today, airport officials say that the system will only be used during situations when "critical and potentially life-saving information" needs to be shared immediately. An example of such an incident would be the shooting at Florida's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January 2017.
One important note: In order to get emergency texts while on the grounds of the San Francisco airport, passengers will need to enable "Emergency Alerts" under "Government Alerts" in their phones' notifications settings.
The hope is that alerting ordinary passengers via text, in addition to emergency and airport personnel, will improve safety for everybody. The new program will augment rather than replace existing alarm systems, including public address announcements.
Major airports in other U.S. locations, including New York City and Dallas/Fort Worth, are expected to roll out their own text alert programs in the coming months.