Why Not To Panic When Your Mobile Devices Erupt With An Emergency Alarm Today
If you are reading this on October 4th at 2:20 pm EST and wondering why your devices are making a cacophony of noise, don’t worry as it is just a test. FEMA and the FCC are coordinating to test two emergency alert systems across the nation to ensure preparedness for national-level emergencies.
As mentioned, two simultaneous alert tests will be conducted with the Wireless Emergency Alerts System and the Emergency Alerts System. Most people are familiar with the latter of these two systems, as this is what is used to alert the public of AMBER alerts, severe weather, or other alerts at varying levels of severity. It was established in 1994 and, at that time, instructed both radio and TV broadcasters as well as cable system providers to allow “the President with capability to address the American people within 10 minutes during a national emergency.” This, of course, has been expanded to include wireless cable systems, satellite, and wireline operators as the times have changed.
The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system is a newer system that was established in 2008 under the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act, becoming operational in 2012. This system allows for “short emergency messages from authorized federal, state, local, tribal and territorial public alerting authorities that can be broadcast from cell towers to any WEA‐enabled mobile device in a locally targeted area.” These notifications include presidential, imminent threat, public safety, AMBER, and testing alerts.
With both systems, there are requirements to run tests every so often to ensure that they are ready to go in the event of an emergency requiring the use of said systems. Therefore, on October 4th at 2:20 pm EST, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be coordinating to conduct a test of both alert systems. It is noted that the EAS portion of the test will last for roughly one minute, while the WEA test will be broadcast for 30 minutes to ensure everyone receives it and will only need to be acknowledged once in that time.
Therefore, come 2:20 pm, you can expect quite the racket coming from phones, TVs, radios, and other systems capable of receiving a message along the lines of “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” Hopefully, given this background, it won’t come as a surprise like some of these tests end up being.