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Wireless Emergency Alert system activated to seek suspect in Chelsea bombing

New Yorkers had a jarring experience with the Wireless Emergency Alert system Monday morning. At 7:56 a.m. ET, phones went off throughout the greater New York City area to convey information about the suspect in Saturday night’s Chelsea neighborhood bombing, according to CNN Money.

The alert message read, “Emergency Alert now WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-year-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen.”

Related: Uber instituted (then rescinded) surge pricing after Chelsea bombing

According to Eric Phillips, who is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s press secretary, Monday’s alert was the first time law enforcement used the Wireless Emergency Alert system in this manner. The system is more commonly used for impending extreme weather conditions or for Amber Alerts. Never before has it been used on such a scale to notify people to be on the lookout for a wanted suspect.

“We activated earlier today a messaging system used by our Office of Emergency Management that allowed us to get information out to all New Yorkers across the board,” said de Blasio this afternoon at a press conference. He also said, “It had an extraordinary effect.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission website, “Pre-authorized national, state, or local government authorities may send alerts regarding public safety emergencies, such as evacuation orders or shelter-in-place orders due to severe weather, a terrorist threat, or chemical spill.”

New York City police commissioner James O’Neill praised the alert system and said, “I think the alert system is very helpful to the police department and the FBI. It gets everyone involved. If we can get everyone in the city engaged to help us keep it safe, this is the future.”

On Saturday night phones owners in the area of the Chelsea explosion received an alert concerning a suspicious package, and were told to stay away from their windows. Monday’s alert, however, went to all New Yorkers, whether or not their phones had New York area codes.

By 11:17 a.m. Monday the first reports that the suspect had been captured were received, and these reports were quickly confirmed. A Linden, New Jersey bar owner who had seen the FBI wanted poster alerted police that he saw the suspect sleeping in a doorway. A shootout ensued, in the course of which the suspect was taken into custody.