Your electronic devices may have alerted you on Wednesday, and there is a specific cause for this.
At approximately 2:20 p.m. EDT, a countrywide examination of the national emergency notification system commenced, broadcasting to mobile phones, TVs, and radios throughout the entirety of the United States. The test took place simultaneously in all time zones from coast to coast.
The majority of Americans who own wireless cell phones should have received an emergency alert on their devices. Those who had their TVs or radios on during the test should have also seen or heard the alert.
This is information about the exam in the United States.
Can you explain what an emergency alert is?
The test carried out on Wednesday by the Federal Emergency Management Agency was done in collaboration with the Federal Communications Commission. The emergency alert messages used during the test were separated into two categories – the Emergency Alert System for radios and televisions, and the Wireless Emergency Alerts for wireless phones – although both were issued simultaneously.
Last Wednesday, the Emergency Alert System underwent its seventh nationwide test. Since November 2011 until August 2021, there have been six previous tests. According to FEMA, this was the third test for wireless alerts and the second one to be transmitted to all cellphones nationwide.
The Wireless Emergency Alert test was transmitted to mobile devices, while the Emergency Alert System test was broadcasted on televisions and radios.
Joseph Trainor, a member of the core faculty at the Disaster Research Center at the University of Delaware, specializes in researching and improving disaster warning systems, including mobile and smart systems. He has collaborated with government agencies both in the U.S. and internationally to enhance their emergency warning protocols. According to Trainor, utilizing this combination of systems will reach a wide range of people.
According to Trainor, the systems have proven to be effective. However, like any system, there are both pros and cons. The limitations include character count, transmission capacity, and speed. Trainor advises against relying solely on one system when constructing warning systems.
What was the reason for testing the alert system?
As of 2015, it has been mandated by federal legislation for FEMA to conduct periodic tests of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, which may include the use of the Emergency Alert System, wireless alerts, and other forms of communication.
The test on Wednesday aimed to assess the national alert system’s ability to reach and inform a large number of individuals in the event of a widespread emergency. A backup date of October 11th was set in case any other emergencies, such as severe weather, hindered the original test on October 4th.
In the event of a major emergency, it may be necessary to send a wireless emergency alert to the entire country. However, the ability to send these alerts to small, specific areas is not the same as being able to distribute them throughout the entire system. This is why testing the technological capabilities of the system is important. This ensures that the system is prepared to handle such a situation.
Representatives from FEMA and the FCC stated that they have faith in the effectiveness of the emergency alert system for television, radio, and mobile phone broadcasts. However, conducting the test on Wednesday provided them with valuable insights from participating companies.
According to a spokesperson from the FCC, when assessing the outcomes of the alert tests, data is being gathered from both EAS and WEA participants. This includes broadcasters, cable companies, satellite TVs, and others, and they are obligated to submit information to the FCC regarding the success of the test.
The commission has mandated that they report back on receiving the alerts, transmitting them to the public, and any technical problems encountered. The FCC will use this data to identify ways to improve the system. The same assessment will take place between the FCC and the nine major American wireless companies involved in the test.
The providers will respond to a series of survey questions that inquire about the specific times when they received the test from the public system and transmitted it to cell towers, as well as any technical difficulties they experienced during the process.
The representative stated that upon receiving the responses, they will analyze them to identify any flaws in the system and potential areas for enhancement.
The examination may also increase public knowledge regarding proper protocol during a national crisis, much like conducting a fire drill in a workplace or school familiarizes individuals with evacuation procedures.
According to Trainor, receiving an alert can prompt individuals to wonder, “What is this? Why am I here?” There is a typical reaction that people have when they receive warnings, often referred to as “milling,” where they need to take time to understand the situation and determine their course of action. They may question the legitimacy of the alert, asking themselves, “What is this? Is it genuine?”
He stated that being exposed to emergency alert tests could help individuals respond promptly in the case of an actual emergency.
According to Trainor, warning and alert systems serve as a starting point. However, the decision-making process ultimately relies on human judgment. If encountering a real event for the first time, it may take longer to understand and gather necessary information in order to make informed decisions.
What is the mechanism of the wireless test?
The wireless segment of the examination was initiated via FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. This platform integrates various national alert systems and enables officials to promptly send verified emergency notifications to the public through various communication networks such as television, telephone, and radio. According to FEMA, a code was transmitted to cellphones for Wednesday’s test.
Government agencies at the federal, state, local, tribal and territorial levels have the authority to generate wireless notifications which are then transmitted to participating wireless carriers using the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).
Cell phone companies that are part of the connected public network send out notifications from cell towers to compatible phones in specific geographic locations.
Trainor explained to CBS News that the goal is for all these systems to collaborate in order to disseminate information through various means, ensuring that individuals have the necessary knowledge to make informed decisions about potential risks in their surroundings.
According to Trainor, studies on wireless notifications, such as text messages, indicate that they are highly effective in capturing people’s focus.
“When your phone makes a sound, you pay attention,” he stated.
According to FEMA, no personal information was gathered from any devices during the procedure.
What was the duration of the wireless emergency alert test?
Cellular towers are currently transmitting an emergency alert test for 30 minutes, beginning at around 2:20 p.m. EDT on Wednesday. However, each individual phone should only receive the alert once.
For a period of thirty minutes, mobile devices that were powered on and not in “airplane mode” and capable of receiving alerts should have received a test message. This was only possible if the devices were within a specific range of a functioning cell tower and their wireless service provider is part of FEMA’s wireless alert system, according to the agency. All major wireless providers are part of this system. However, older devices may not be able to receive wireless alerts.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) stated that individuals who were on a phone call during the alert would experience a delay in receiving the message and tone until they ended the call.
Individuals who received the test notification on their mobile devices would have been presented with a message stating: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No further action is required.”
The alert was translated automatically when it appeared on cellphones where the language settings were set to Spanish. That message read: “ESTA ES UNA PRUEBA del Sistema Nacional de Alerta de Emergencia. No se necesita acción.”
According to FEMA, the alerts were designed to be more accessible for individuals with disabilities by including a distinct tone and vibration.
Following the audible signal on Wednesday, the phrase “Two Minutes Early” quickly gained popularity on X, the popular social networking site previously named Twitter. Many users questioned the reason for the alert being issued earlier than anticipated. As stated in FEMA’s press statement, the test was scheduled to begin at around 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time and would be broadcasted for approximately 30 minutes by cell towers.
Could you choose to not participate in the wireless test?
Individuals have the choice to opt out of receiving specific emergency alerts on their cellphones from local authorities, or to decide whether or not to subscribe to a specific set of emergency alerts from a particular agency. However, it was not an option to decline the national wireless alert system’s test on Wednesday.
According to Trainor, one of the reasons the system functions as it does is because cellphones are capable of receiving broadcast signals. He explained that the integrated public alert system utilizes broadcast technology to transmit emergency information to cellphone towers, which then disseminate the information to wireless devices within their geographical range.
Prior to Wednesday, the announcement of FEMA’s recent test triggered a flurry of online conspiracy theories that were unfounded and misrepresented the functionality of the technology.
What is the procedure for testing TVs and radios?
The planned time for the Emergency Alert System test coincided with the wireless segment, but it only lasted for a minute.
At its release, the examination disrupted normal TV and radio broadcasts, regardless of the channel or station you were tuned in to. The message that was broadcast stated: “This is a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, authorized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, covering the United States from 2:20 PM to 2:50 PM Eastern Time. This is simply a test and no action is necessary for the public.”
FEMA stated prior to the Emergency Alert System test that it would be comparable to the typical, monthly EAS test messages that the public is accustomed to.