On Wednesday at 2:20 p.m. ET, the US government will conduct a test of the emergency and wireless alert systems. During this test, a message will be disseminated to all cellphones, radios, and TVs.
In a preceding press statement delineating the October 4th examination, FEMA indicated that the content of the message transmitted to cellular devices will be as follows: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
A distinct communication will be transmitted to television sets and radio receivers. The message 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 communication over radio or television channels typically has a duration of around one minute, accompanied by the customary electronic auditory signal preceding the commencement of the message.
Cellular devices will get a test notification message provided that the device is “switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA” (wireless emergency alerts) system. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are commonly defined as urgent notifications “that are sent directly to your phone by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier.”
These entities typically include the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), state agencies, and the United States National Weather Service.
According to the alert issued by FEMA, “All wireless phones should receive the message only once. The following can be expected from the nationwide WEA test: Beginning at approximately 2:20 p.m. ET, cell towers will broadcast the test for approximately 30 minutes. 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.”
What is the rationale behind this request?
The collaborative endeavor will be executed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The statement regarding the test message was issued by the agencies in early August.
According to the website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), television and radio broadcasters are required to adhere to the nation’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) as mandated by federal law. This system enables them to assume control of channels or stations “within 10 minutes during a national emergency.”
According to Joseph Trainor, an expert from the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center, “With the combination, you’re going to catch a wide swath of people.” This statement was made during an interview with CBS News.
He continued: “We know that they are effective systems. Like any system, there are strengths and weaknesses. How many characters you can use, how much you can transmit, how fast you can get it out. Every system has limits, and that’s why we tell people, when we are giving advice about building warning systems, you don’t ever want to rely on just one thing.”
The scheduled test alert for October is not the initial deployment of its kind. The sixth countrywide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) was conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on August 11, 2021. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), previous examinations were carried out in the years 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.
According to officials, these notifications are intentionally created to serve as a means of testing during real emergency situations. The purpose of this design is to assess the system’s ability to operate efficiently in the event of a natural disaster, acts of terrorism, a nuclear attack, or any other threat to public safety.
“The EAS national test in 2021 was very similar to regular monthly tests typically originated by state authorities. 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 and the audio said.”
In 1951, the United States established its inaugural emergency broadcasting system with the purpose of utilizing radio technology to alert the American populace to potential hostile incursions during the Cold War era. The expansion of the system occurred in response to escalating concerns on the possibility of a nuclear strike by the Soviet Union in the following years.
The phenomenon of false alarms:
There have been instances of erroneous alerts throughout the years. Significantly, in the year 2018, a misleading notification was disseminated in the state of Hawaii, wherein the Emergency Management System of the region mistakenly sent an alert indicating the imminent occurrence of a ballistic missile assault on the islands.
The notification indicated “Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound To Hawaii. Seek Immediate Shelter. This Is Not A Drill.” It took around 30 minutes for officials to provide clarification that the message had been erroneously issued.
During the year 2022, amidst the occurrence of wildfires in California, the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management promptly issued an evacuation advisory including the regions of Los Angeles, the Eastern North Pacific Ocean, and Port Conception extending up to Guadalupe. The term “Eastern North Pacific Ocean” or “Eastern North Pacific” was mentioned a total of twelve instances before the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office acknowledged it as an erroneous statement.
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