The test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) will enable authorities to "assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message.
(TNS) - The first nationwide cellphone test will happen at 2:18 p.m. Wednesday with TV and radio alerts to sound off 2 minutes later.
The test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) will enable authorities to "assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether improvements are needed," according to Federal Emergency Management Agency's website at fema.gov.
"This is part of what's called the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS," said Tim Warstler, Stark County Emergency Management Agency director. "This is a test to make sure the system is able to work, to send a message in a time of disaster to everything within a set area."
According to the FEMA website, "IPAWS enables public safety alerting authorities such as emergency managers, police, and fire departments to send the same alert and warning message over multiple communication pathways at the same time to citizens in harm's way, helping to save lives."
Emergency officials sending out an alert about a pending disaster need only issue one alert with the IPAWS technology.
That message may go out to cellphones, weather radios and TV and radio stations - simultaneously. Although for Wednesday's testing, the alerts will go out separately - two minutes apart, Warstler said.
Alerts for some systems, such as weather radio alerts and Amber alerts for endangered children, typically need to be issued independently of one another. Systems are activated differently and with separate, specific sets of criteria, Warstler said.
With the IPAWS system, messages from local officials during an emergency will go out to the public on smart devices in a single alert.
"We only have to send the message one place," Warstler said. "It's simply the way of the future."
Evolving technology use
Most people no longer use land lines. Home-based telephones have been replaced by cellphones.
A survey by the National Center for Health Statistics showed that in the first half of 2017, more than 52 percent of all households in the United States had only wireless cellphones, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, or CDC.
"Nearly three-quarters of all adults aged 25-34 were living in wireless-only households; more than two-thirds (70.7%) of adults renting their homes were living in wireless-only households," the survey showed.
Landlines still work when the power goes out, yet because most people no longer have them, "we have to be able to get messages to the cellphones," Warstler said.
And eventually, he said, the alert messages will sound off on other smart devices, such as Alexa and Google Home devices.
"The idea behind this is to be able to reach any type of device that people would use for communication," he said.
Warstler cautioned that not all cellphones will receive the alert.
Older phones without updated software won't be impacted.
"It's not the cellphone, it's the version of the software on the cellphone," Warstler said. So older phones with updated software may still get the alerts.
The federal agency and the Federal Communications Commission initially planned to conduct the test on Sept. 20, but delayed it due to emergency efforts taking place in the path of Hurricane Florence.
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