Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Emergency Alert System Nationwide Test

"This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The broadcasters of your area in voluntary cooperation with the FCC and federal, state and local authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency."
This afternoon at 2pm (Eastern Standard Time) the Emergency Alert System, or EAS, will launch its first nationwide test. I'm sure you're familiar with the "this is only a test" that occurs periodically on TV and radio. The purpose of today's test is to assess the reliability and effectiveness of the system in alerting the entire public.

Today's test will involve only "broadcast radio and television, cable television, satellite radio and television and wireline video services" that participate in the EAS.  The Emergency Alert System transmits emergency alerts and warnings to the American public at the national, Tribal, state and local levels. A typical alert of a weather threat or child abduction makes sense at local and state levels. It's hard to imagine a national alert short of war or significant terrorist attack or major disaster such as an mega-earthquake or tsunami.

While local/state components of the EAS are tested on a weekly/monthly basis, there has never been an end-to-end nationwide test of the system. Only a complete, top-down test of the EAS can provide an appropriate diagnosis of the system's performance.

Although the nationwide EAS test may resemble the periodic monthly EAS tests that most consumers are familiar with, there will be some differences. The audio message will say "this is a test", however due to limitations of the EAS, the video test message may not be the same and may not indicate "this is a test" for everyone. In some cases there may be no image at all. FEMA and the FCC are working with organizations representing the deaf and hard of hearing to prepare that community for the nationwide test.

This test is being conducted on November 9 because this date is near the end of hurricane season and before the severe winter weather season begins. The 2 p.m. EST broadcast will minimize disruption during rush hours while ensuring that the test occurs during working hours across the country.

Bottom Line

The test will last approximately 30 seconds at 2pm EST, Nov 9, 2011.

Updated Nov 10

The test showed many areas with room for improvement. ABC News asks,
National Emergency Alert Test: Total Failure?
"Some people never saw an alert, others said the audio was distorted and there were even claims that Lady Gaga’s song “Paparazzi” was playing instead of the correct audio. On KABC-TV in Los Angeles, a screen flashed with the EAS graphic for several minutes, but there was no audio or information given.  ...
On the television feeds at ABC News’ headquarters in New York City, CNN ran a preview graphic saying, “Soon: Emergency Test Alert,” but the actual test never ran. Both ESPN and Fox News teased that the test was coming up, but it never happened. On MTV, it was afternoon programming as usual."
The FEMA administrator says, "I apologize for the disruptions that people went through. But we need to test things to find out what works and what doesn’t work.”

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