Reverse 9-1-1 Newest Weapon In War On Thanksgiving (How To Disable It On Your Phone)

Officials in Harris County texted residents with an appeal to forsake Thanksgiving gatherings, obtain a COVID-19 test, and wear a face mask.

Harris County sent a similar COVID-19-related message in June. This was prior to a City of Austin message which sent what was widely seen as a politically charged message ahead of a Fourth of July protests against business closure mandates, but said nothing of the health risks of Black Lives Matters demonstrations.

With reports of COVID-19 cases on the rise, local officials are again flirting with various measures to control personal behavior, fearful of hospitals and health care facilities running out of space to care for patients (or leveraging that fear for additional revenue). Democratic Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo said, via CBS DFW, that since late September, the number of average new daily cases in Texas’s most populous county has increased by 250%.

FROM THE HIP: The politicization of push notifications continues.

Reverse 9-1-1 came into being while riding a wave of popularity of Amber Alerts and similar notifications. Using GIS mapping technology and in cooperation with phone service providers, these messages have been used since the early 2000s, starting with a simple recorded voice call, moving to text messages, and now appearing as “push notifications” on phones. The method gained prominence in 2004 as the city of Granby, Colo., warned residents to steer clear of the path of the infamous “Killdozer.”

Now being used selectively to warn of politically unpopular gatherings (e.g. holiday celebrations) and not others (social justice protests), smart phone users may be looking for a way to disable these alerts. Though devices and operating systems may differ, below are the most common ways to silence these messages:


Android devices:

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Got to Apps & Notifications.
  3. Go to Advanced.
  4. Go to Emergency Alerts for the option to turn off Amber Alerts, Extreme Threats and Severe Threats.


  1. Open Settings.
  2. Scroll down and select Notification Center.
  3. Scroll down to Government Alerts and slide left on the Emergency Alerts tab. You can also disable AMBER alerts from this section.

Important note: As local governments are increasingly relying on smart phone alerts to inform residents of actual disasters and public safety threats such as approaching storms and flood conditions, you will want a weather radio with emergency battery backup handy. Wirecutter has some suggestions here.

If you suspect severe weather or other public safety risks are developing, make sure you are listening to terrestrial radio (AM and FM, as opposed to satellite) or monitoring broadcast television (not streaming devices or recorded media) for emergency alerts.



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