The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission announced their joint plan to conduct a nationwide test of their Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) on Wednesday, October 4, at 2:20 p.m. ET.
The EAS test applies to radios and televisions, while the WEA test applies to cell phones. In one (n official press releaseThe Department of Homeland Security advises that in the event of severe weather or other significant events, the test will be postponed until October 11th.
The two branches of government have been in contact with various wireless carriers and other companies to adequately prepare for the process, which, according to the release, “is intended to ensure that the systems continue to be effective means of alerting the public to emergencies,” the release said. especially those at the national level.”
Most commonly, the alerts are used to disseminate weather-related information (e.g., about tornadoes and dangerous storms), but the system is also responsible for issuing Amber Alerts and so-called civil emergency messages that relate to ongoing events or imminent significant threats to the public safety (e.g. due to terrorist attacks).
How exactly will the two tests impact the general public? Here’s a breakdown.
What happens to my phone during the test?
The following information applies to cell phones that are switched on at the agreed time and within range of an active cell tower and using a cell phone provider that participates in such tests. Although most major phone providers participate in the program, if in doubt you should check with your provider directly as some providers may offer the service on some mobile devices and not others.
Around 2:20 p.m. ET, your cell phone’s alarm will likely go off with an accompanying text message that says “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System.” There is no need for action.”
If your phone’s main menu is set to Spanish, the message on the display will read: “ESTA ES UNA PRUEBA del Sistema Nacional de Alerta de Emergencia. No action is required.”
You’ll notice that the alert comes with a unique sound and vibration that you’ve probably never heard or felt from your device before, and that’s intentional. In fact, as the Department of Homeland Security explained, the special features are intended to ensure that the entire public, including people with disabilities, is informed of the process taking place.
The unpleasantness of the sound is also intended to attract everyone’s attention.
The plan is for Americans to receive the notification once within the 30 minutes that the various cell towers are broadcasting the test. Once you receive it, you can’t turn it off – you have to let the minute pass.
As mentioned in the message, you are not expected to take any action after the transfer.
What happens to my TV and radio during the test?
All radios and televisions turned on around 2:20 p.m. ET on Wednesday will also display an emergency test alert that reads: “This is a nationwide test of the emergency warning system issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency covering the United States.” States from 2:20 p.m. to 2:50 p.m. ET. This is just a test. There is no need for action from the public.”
The alarm will sound for approximately one minute on participating radio and television stations, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and wireline video providers.
Again, you are not expected to take any action in response to the transfer.
Has this test been done before?
Yes. This is not the first time the government has tested our emergency response system.
In fact, Wednesday’s EAS test will be the seventh since the first was conducted in 2011. As for the WEA, this will be the second one ever sent to consumers’ mobile phones. You probably remember the recent two-system trial in 2021.
Why are these tests even taking place?
To put it simply: The EAS was created in 1997 to allow the president of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, to contact all Americans within 10 minutes of an emergency.
Interestingly, the first project of this kind was actually Electromagnetic Radiation Control (CONELRAD). In 1951, the emergency system broadcast an alarm by radio to warn Americans of a possible Soviet nuclear explosion. However, in the following decade, the system proved ineffective as the newly developed Soviet missiles intercepted the radio waves before the messages were sent.
Let’s rewind to the late 90s and the EAS was founded. And with the more recent introduction of mobile WEA alerts, the government has found an efficient way to get everyone’s attention given our collective obsession with mobile devices.