MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Don’t be alarmed, but the federal government is about to give you a buzz. A nationwide alert test will be sent to our cellphones Wednesday afternoon.

That had us wondering: Why is the federal government messaging us? And how did they get our phone numbers?

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Between all the beeps and buzzes on your phone, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) tend to stand out.

So far this year in Minnesota, 72 WEAs have been sent. They’re often targeted at a specific area versus statewide.

Amber Alerts and severe weather warnings quickly come to mind, but they also include curfew warnings, which happened during protests in Brooklyn Center in April.

When a grain elevator caught fire in western Minnesota in July, neighbors got an alert to conserve water to ensure fire crews had an ample supply to put out the flames.

Wednesday, however, the test alert won’t be local but coast to coast, courtesy of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“It’s called the ‘Presidential test’ but it’s actually initiated from FEMA,” said Dana Wahlberg, director of Minnesota’s Emergency Communication Network (ECN) division.

(credit: CBS)

Why might we be getting a national alert? Usually if it’s a matter of national emergency.

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“Whether it be a missile attack or any other type of harmful activity, nefarious activity from another country or such, then that would be the time that the entire nation would be alerted,” said Wahlberg, adding that the message might instruct people to seek shelter or evacuate.

Does this mean the government knows all of our phone numbers?

“Absolutely not,” said Wahlberg.

The government works with major cell phone providers, like Verizon, to send the alerts to cell towers. If you’re near a tower, your phone will get the alert. If your phone is turned off, the alert will appear once you power up again.

“There’s no location tracking that goes on with this. It’s a one-way message disseminated to the public,” said Wahlberg.

The federal alert test window will start around 1:20 p.m. (CST) Wednesday and last until 1:50 pm.

You are able to opt out of getting the test alerts from the federal government, but not the actual alerts.

If you’d like to learn how to opt in or out of the tests, click here.

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For more information on the WEA test happening Wednesday, click here.

Jeff Wagner