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US to conduct massive nationwide emergency test

In early October, a nationwide test of the emergency alert system (EAS) will be conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The test comes with increasing tension between Russia, China and Iran, all of whom have the ability to reach the U.S. with nuclear and non-nuclear ballistic missiles. Iran is believed to be developing nuclear weapons and continues to threaten Israel and the United States with destruction. But the test also comes as experts warn of artificial intelligence being incorporated into military applications.

The test, which was upgraded and expanded under the Trump administration, will be broadcast to every television, radio, and cellphone across the United States on Wednesday, October 4th, at 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time (CT), 1:20 Central. Consequently, television broadcasts, radio programs, and cellphone users will experience an interruption as they receive the alert message.

This alert is expected to emit the familiar electronic warning sound and will display the following message on cellphones: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” Additionally, a Spanish-language version of the alert will also be distributed.

Cellphones will receive this test alert message provided they are “switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and their wireless provider participates in WEA” or wireless emergency alerts. WEAs are described as emergency messages “that are sent directly to your phone by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier.” These authorities include FEMA, the FCC, state agencies, and the U.S. National Weather Service.

The announcement says “During this time, WEA-compatible wireless 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.”

On television and radio, the October alert will last approximately one minute, featuring an alert sound followed by the “familiar” message: “This is a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, covering the United States from 14:20 to 14:50 hours ET. This is only a test. No action is required by the public,” as stated by the agencies.

In the event that the October 4th test is postponed due to a significant event or a weather emergency, the EAS testing date will be rescheduled to October 11th, as stipulated by federal law. Television and radio broadcasters are mandated by FEMA’s website to adhere to the nation’s EAS and take control of channels or stations “within 10 minutes during a national emergency.”

Additional Information: The upcoming test alert scheduled for October is not the first of its kind. FEMA and the FCC conducted similar tests on August 11, 2021, which they referred to as the sixth nationwide test of the EAS. Previous tests occurred in 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, according to FEMA.

The 2021 EAS national test closely resembled regular monthly tests initiated by state authorities. During this test, radios and televisions nationwide temporarily suspended normal programming to broadcast the EAS test message in English or Spanish. The message lasted approximately one minute. FEMA conducted the 2021 test to evaluate the effectiveness of transmitting and receiving a national message via television and radio.

Comparatively, the EAS message from the 2021 test contained significantly more text than the current one, as follows: “This is a test of the Emergency Alert System. This is only a test. The message you are hearing is part of a nationwide live code test of Emergency Alert System capabilities. This test message has been initiated by national alert and warning authorities,” it said. “In coordination with Emergency Alert System participants, including broadcast, cable, satellite, and wireline participants in your area. Had this been an actual emergency, the attention signal you just heard would have been followed by emergency information, news, or instructions. This is only a test. We now return you to regular programming.”

The U.S. emergency broadcasting system was initially established in 1951 as a means for the federal government to utilize radios to warn Americans about potential enemy attacks during the Cold War era. Over subsequent decades, the system expanded due to mounting concerns about the possibility of a Soviet nuclear attack.

Canada held a similar test in May and Britain launched its very first cell phone alert in April. Germany this year expanded its national test to include cell phones. France for the first time launched a nationwide test in 2022.

–Dwight Widaman and wire services

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