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Check your phone: FEMA is testing out 'Presidential Alert' system - Metro US

Check your phone: FEMA is testing out ‘Presidential Alert’ system

FEMA presidential alert check
Photo: iStock

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will be conducting a test of its Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and Emergency Alert System (EAS) at the beginning of next month, in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission. This will be the first national WEA test of a new presidential alert system and the fourth nationwide EAS test, according to FEMA.

Originally planned for this Thursday, September 20, both tests have been postponed until October 3 due to Florence response efforts, a FEMA spokesperson confirmed to Metro. “A backup date is always planned in case of widespread severe weather or other significant events on the primary test date. FEMA and the nation’s emergency management community remain committed to the life-saving activities occurring through parts of North Carolina and South Carolina,” a FEMA news release states

The WEA test of the presidential alert system has been scheduled to ensure such messages work in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. Like the national EAS alerts, which send warnings via local radio and TV, WEA is part of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).

Tim Groeling, a UCLA communications professor, told NBC News that “broadcast-based emergency alert systems… have remained professional and impartial over decades. A system like this seems necessary in an era where most people are disconnected from ‘live’ media like radio and television.”

Since 2012, American citizens have been getting emergency messages such as Amber alerts and weather warnings sent to their phones (remember the false ballistic missile alert in Hawaii this past January?). In the six years since its establishment, authorized government alerting authorities have issued over 36,000 WEA warnings.

Nationwide EAS testing has occurred over the last two years, but the presidential alert system through WEA specifically have not been tested. 

Here’s what you need to know about this presidential alert test happening in October.

What will this test entail?

“WEA will look like a text message,” states the FEMA website. “The WEA message will show the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, and the agency issuing the alert. The message will be no more than 90 characters.” More than 100 carriers, including all of the “largest carriers,” are participating — though some phones may not receive the text.

The presidential alert will read:

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

Cell towers will broadcast the WEA test for approximately 30 minutes, according to FEMA — and, during this time, “WEA compatible cell 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.”

It will give off a loud tone and vibration and will be followed by an EAS message, lasting one minute, that reads as follows:

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Emergency Alert System. This system was developed by broadcast and cable operators in voluntary cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and local authorities to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency an official message would have followed the tone alert you heard at the start of this message. A similar wireless emergency alert test message has been sent to all cell phones nationwide. Some cell phones will receive the message; others will not. No action is required.”

As Mashable notes, Trump will not be able to use these alerts like his personal Twitter account because “the public alert and warning system shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety,” states the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act of 2015.

In 2016, President Obama signed this act into law.

When exactly will this presidential alert happen?

FEMA’s test of the new WEA presidential alert system will occur on October 3 at 2:18 p.m. Then, the EAS test will follow at 2:20 p.m. that same day.

You can opt out of general WEA alerts (Amber alerts, etc.) but you cannot opt out of a presidential alert.

View the EAS and WEA test fact sheet via FEMA’s website.

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