PHOENIX -- FEMA and the FCC will conduct the first-ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System Wednesday. If it works, it will allow federal agencies or the President to send out alerts to Americans simultaneously.
The test will happen at Noon MST (2 p.m. EST) and will be transmitted via television and radio stations within the U.S., Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.
Similar to local emergency alert system tests you already see and hear, an audio message will interrupt television and radio programming indicating: “This is a test...” Regular programming will resume when the test is over.
The National Emergency Alert System test was originally scheduled to last 3 minutes, but has been shortened to 30 seconds.
FAQ: NOVEMBER 9, 2011 EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM TEST
When is the Nationwide Emergency Alert System (EAS) Test?
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will conduct the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). The nationwide test will occur on Wednesday, November 9 at 2:00 PM eastern standard time (EST) and will last approximately 30 seconds. The nationwide test will involve broadcast radio and television stations, cable television, satellite radio and television services and wireline video service providers all across the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii, and the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. It will look and sound very similar to the local tests of the Emergency Alert System that occur frequently.
What is the Emergency Alert System (EAS)?
The national Emergency Alert System is an alert and warning system that can be activated by the President, if needed, to provide information to the American public during emergencies. NOAA's National Weather Service, governors, and state and local emergency authorities also use parts of the system to issue more localized emergency alerts. While the system is often tested at the local level, there has never been a nationwide, top-to-bottom, test of the system. Also, to date, the EAS has not been used to deliver a national-level or Presidential alert. The test is an important exercise in ensuring that the system is effective in communicating critical information to the public in the event of a real national emergency.
Why is the EAS being tested now?
Although the Emergency Alert System is often tested at the local level, on a weekly and monthly basis, there has never been a nationwide test of the system. We need to know that the system will work as intended should public safety officials ever need to send an alert or warning to a large region of the United States. Only a complete test of the Emergency Alert System can help us identify any changes and improvements needed to modernize this system and make it fully accessible.
How will the national EAS test be conducted?
The national EAS test will be conducted jointly by FEMA, the FCC, and NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) -- the three federal agencies that have EAS management responsibilities. FEMA is the arm of the Department of Homeland Security that is primarily responsible for developing national alert and warning functions. The FCC is an independent agency that grants licenses to or otherwise oversees broadcasters and other EAS participants. FCC rules regulate the transmission of EAS alerts. The NWS is a key player in disseminating local warnings via the EAS. The great majority of emergency alerts are NWS weather-related alerts.
On November 9, at 2:00 PM EST, FEMA will transmit the EAS code for national level emergencies to specially designated stations, which then broadcast this alert to the public in their listening areas. Other EAS participants (television and other radio broadcasters, cable and wireline video service providers, radio and television satellite service providers, and others) monitor the specially-designated stations for EAS alerts. When these other EAS participants receive the EAS alert, they, in turn, broadcast it to the public in their listening areas. This should continue through all levels of the system, until the national alert has been distributed throughout the entire country.
How long will the test last?
We anticipate that the test will last approximately 30 seconds.
What will people hear and see during the test?
On November 9, the public will hear a message indicating that “This is a test.” The audio message will be the same for both radio and television. However, the image on the screen and the text/crawl at the top of television screen may not be the same for all viewers. When the EAS test is over, regular programming will resume.
Will the test be on all communication devices?
The nationwide test will involve broadcast radio and television stations, cable television, satellite radio and television services and wireline video service providers across all states and the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.
The test will not involve other communication devices such as the Internet, LAN and mobile telephones. No other communications networks or devices will be impacted by the test, meaning that people will be able to continue use their cell phones, the internet and other communications channels during the test. There will be no disruption of those services.
When or in what instance/situation will the national EAS be used?
While it is difficult to predict the circumstances for which the system would be used, Executive Order 13407 requires the federal government to have an emergency alert system available to the President of the United States under all conditions, that could be used to provide critical information to the American people during an emergency. Specifically, it states, "It is the policy of the United States to have an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible, and comprehensive system to alert and warn the American people....and to ensure under all conditions the President can communicate with the American people."
Why is the national test being conducted on this particular date and at this particular time?
Tests of the Emergency Alert System are important to ensure that the system is functional and that broadcasters and other participants are prepared to issue alerts. This date and time were chosen to minimize any potential disruption and confusion. November 9 is near the end of hurricane season and before the severe winter weather season begins in earnest. The 2:00 PM EST broadcast time will minimize disruption during rush hours, while ensuring that the test occurs during working hours across the United States.