Most Americans have received an emergency alert on their cellphones — Amber Alert, tornado warning or whatever. But today virtually every American with a mobile device will be hearing directly from Uncle Sam. Whether they want to or not.
If your cell is turned on at 11:18 a.m. PT/2:18 p.m. ET, it will buzz and you’ll see a “Presidential Alert” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in conjunction with the FCC. And, as FEMA notes, “Users cannot opt out of receiving the Wireless Emergency Alerts test.”
It’s the first nationwide dry run for the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, which the feds say “will assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether improvements are needed.” That’s a verbose way of saying, “Here’s how we’ll let you know if something big is happening.”
But this is only a test. A real “presidential alert” would be sent only in the case of a national emergency or crisis. Today’s practice alert originally was planned for September 20 but was postponed due to ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Florence, FEMA said.
The WEA was launched in 2012, six years after Congress passed the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act as a reaction to the outcry over FEMA’s handling of Hurricane Katrina.
Here is more from the governmental agency regarding today’s test, which is the mobile answer of the Emergency Alerts System we’ve come to know and dread on TV and radio for decades (there also will be an EAS alert today two minutes after the WEA one goes out):
Cell towers will broadcast the WEA test for approximately 30 minutes beginning at 2:18 p.m. EDT. 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. Some cell phones will not receive the test message, and cell phones should only receive the message once. The WEA test message will have a header that reads “Presidential Alert” and text that says:
“THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
The WEA system is used to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children, and other critical situations through alerts on cell phones. The national test will use the same special tone and vibration as with all WEA messages (i.e. Tornado Warning, AMBER Alert). Users cannot opt out of receiving the WEA test.
The EAS is a national public warning system that provides the President with the communications capability to address the nation during a national emergency. The test is made available to EAS participants (i.e., radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and wireline video providers) and is scheduled to last approximately one minute. The test message will be similar to regular monthly EAS test messages with which the public is familiar. The EAS message will include a reference to the WEA test:
“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.”