Nationwide Emergency Alert Test Will Hit All Phones This Week

Lorenz Duchamps
By Lorenz Duchamps
October 3, 2023US News
Nationwide Emergency Alert Test Will Hit All Phones This Week
In this photo illustration, a phone displays an emergency alert message that reads "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed" in N.Y.C., on Oct. 3, 2018. (Photo Illustration by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will conduct a nationwide test of its emergency alert system on Oct. 4 at 2:20 p.m. ET to ensure the system continues to remain an effective means of warning the public in the case of an emergency, particularly those on the national level.

The agency said in a statement on Oct. 2 that the Emergency Alert System (EAS) portion of the test will send an alert to all radios and TVs, while the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) portion will be directed to all cellphones.

According to FEMA, the message to be broadcast on TV or radio will last approximately a minute and will state: “This is a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, covering the United States from 14:20 to 14:50 hours ET. This is only a test. No action is required by the public.”

The tests, which are being conducted in coordination with the Federal Communication Commission, will feature the same “familiar” audio tone that’s been used since the 1960s to broadcast national warnings.

For mobile users, the emergency alert test will be sent in either English or Spanish depending on the language settings of your device. They will be accompanied by a text message saying: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

For those with the main menu set to Spanish, the alert message will display: “ESTA ES UNA PRUEBA del Sistema Nacional de Alerta de Emergencia. No se necesita acción.”

To ensure that the WEA alerts are accessible to all people, including those with disabilities, the alerts will be accompanied by a unique tone and vibration, FEMA said.

“Beginning at approximately 2:20 p.m., cell towers will broadcast the signal for approximately 30 minutes,” the statement reads. “During this time, WEA-compatible wireless phones that are switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA, should be capable of receiving the test message. To help ensure that these alerts are accessible to the entire public, including people with disabilities, the alerts are accompanied by a unique tone and vibration.”

Prior Tests

Tests such as Wednesday’s scheduled alert is required at least once every three years under federal law. The most recent nationwide test was on Aug. 11, 2021, according to FEMA, when the agency carried out what they said was the sixth nationwide test of the EAS. The previous five tests were held in 2011 and annually between 2016 and 2019.

“The EAS national test in 2021 was very similar to regular monthly tests typically originated by state authorities,” FEMA said. “During the test, radios and televisions across the country interrupted normal programming to play the EAS test message in English or Spanish. The EAS test message lasted approximately one minute long.”

The first U.S. emergency broadcasting system was created in 1951 as a way for the federal government to use radios to warn Americans about an enemy attack during the Cold War. The system was expanded as fears began to grow of a Soviet nuclear attack in subsequent decades.

Since its creation, there have, however, been a number of high-profile mistakes over the years, the most notable example being the erroneous alert that falsely warned residents in Hawaii in 2018 that a ballistic missile attack on the islands was imminent, unleashing hysteria and confusion across the state home to some 1.4 million people.

NTD Photo
A combination photograph shows screenshots from a cell phone displaying an alert for a ballistic missile launch and the subsequent false alarm message in Hawaii on Jan. 13, 2018. (Hugh Gentry/Reuters)

In 2022, during wildfires in California, an immediate evacuation notice was sent by the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management for Los Angeles, the Eastern North Pacific Ocean, and Port Conception to Guadalupe. The text listed “Eastern North Pacific Ocean” or “Eastern North Pacific” twelve different times before the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said it was an error.

Meanwhile, a FEMA spokesperson told The Associated Press in an emailed statement that claims circulating online saying the agency’s notification system will make your phone, or any other device, “inoperable” are false.

“There’s no truth to these claims,” Jeremy Edwards said, pointing out that phone operations are not disabled or interrupted when an alert is received, and users can simply click a message that pops up on their screens during the test to dismiss it.

If a phone is turned off before the test alert is sent and not switched on until after the test expires, it will not get the test message, Mr. Edwards added.

“The WEA alert tone is only played when the alert is initially received by the phone and stops as soon as the user clicks a button,” he wrote.

FEMA is responsible for implementing, maintaining, and operating the EAS at the federal level together with the Federal Communications Commission and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Epoch Times reporter Jack Phillips contributed to this report.

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