National Emergency Alert Test Scheduled for This Week

After a delay last month, a “Presidential Alert” has been rescheduled and will be pushed out to cellphones across the country Oct. 3.

by Alisha Roemeling, The Register-Guard / October 2, 2018
Shutterstock.com/Mark Van Scyoc

(TNS) — Most cellphone users should expect to receive a "presidential alert" sent to their phones Wednesday afternoon when federal officials conduct the first-ever test of the country's emergency communications system.

The nationwide alert will simultaneously be sent out to cellphones across the country, reaching Oregon cellphones just before 11:20 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time, according to a press release issued by the federal government.

The test will have the same tone as AMBER alert warnings and will feature the words "Presidential Alert" and "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."

Cell towers will broadcast the WEA test for about 30 minutes beginning at 11:18 a.m. Pacific time, according to government officials. The Wireless Emergency Alert system, or WEA, is used to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children and other critical situations through alerts on cellphones.

Immediately following the 11:18 a.m. WEA test will be an Emergency Alert System or EAS test at 11:20. While the wireless test is the first of its kind, the EAS test will be the fourth one the government has issued. The EAS is a national public warning system that allows the President the communications capability to address the nation during a national emergency via radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers.

The EAS test has previously been issued in November 2011, September 2016, and September 2017 in collaboration with the FCC, broadcasters, and emergency management officials in recognition of FEMA's National Preparedness Month.

The second EAS test alert is scheduled to last approximately one minute.

Lane County, Ore., spokeswoman Devon Ashbridge said Monday that the alert could be especially alarming to those who receive it while driving.

"People who expect to be driving at the time of the test should be prepared to hear the alert tone and either pull over before checking their phones or wait until they arrive at their destination," Ashbridge said.

Otherwise, she said, the test will probably be a helpful tool for local and federal agencies.

"This nationwide test is a great opportunity to see how well one of the important tools governments use to communicate with residents during an emergency works," Ashbridge said. "As technology continues to evolve and become a more important part of our daily lives, testing the wireless emergency alert system is critical."

All major cellphone providers and some smaller providers participate in the WEA system, meaning that most cellphones will receive the emergency test alerts, including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and others. Cellphone users cannot opt out of receiving the test, according to the federal government.

Ashbridge said agencies throughout the county often use tools to share emergency messaging to quickly get information to residents. Some of those tools include wireless alerts, television and radio broadcasts, social media and website postings, search and rescue volunteers, and local media.

But Wednesday's alert will be provided by federal agencies, not local.

"This is a federal test and has nothing to do with any local alert sign-up services," Ashbridge said.

To receive a WEA message, cellphones must be WEA-capable, switched on and within range of a cell tower to receive service.

The test is a joint effort of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission to determine whether and how well a national cell phone message is distributed.

For more information about the federal test, visit fema.gov/emergency-alert-test.

©2018 The Register-Guard (Eugene, Ore.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.