FEMA to send test messages to almost all phones, TVs and radios today

FEMA will work with the Federal Communications Commission to test its emergency alert processes through radios and televisions, as well as consumer cellphones. (Dreamstime/TNS)
FEMA will work with the Federal Communications Commission to test its emergency alert processes through radios and televisions, as well as consumer cellphones. (Dreamstime/TNS)


At about 1:20 p.m. Central Time today, the U.S. government will send a test message to almost all cellphones, televisions and radios in the country.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is working with the Federal Communications Commission to conduct a test of the Emergency Alert System (for TV and radio) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (for cellphones), according to a news release from FEMA on Tuesday.

Much preparation has been done in an effort to "minimize confusion and maximize the public safety value of the test," according to FEMA.

"The purpose of the test is to ensure that the systems continue to be effective means of warning the public about emergencies, particularly those on the national level," according to the news release.

The text message that will pop into cellphones will read: "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."

The cellphone text alerts are accompanied by a unique tone and vibration, according to FEMA. The text message will display in either English or in Spanish, depending on the language settings of the cellphone.

All major wireless providers in the country participate in Wireless Emergency Alerts and will transmit the national test to their subscribers, according to a fact sheet from FEMA. Some providers do not participate in Wireless Emergency Alerts, so they will not transmit the test message.

All wireless phones that receive the message should get it only once.

According to FEMA, beginning at about 1:20 p.m. Central Time, cell towers will broadcast the test for about 30 minutes. During this time, compatible wireless phones that are switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in Wireless Emergency Alerts, should be capable of receiving the test message.

"If a phone is off before the test alert is sent and not turned back on until after the WEA Test expires (approximately 30 minutes), the phone should not get the test message," according to FEMA.

For people watching television or listening to the radio at the time, the minute-long message will be similar to the regular monthly test messages with which the public is familiar, according to FEMA. It will state: "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."

This will be the third nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alerts system, and the second test to include all compatible cellular devices, according to FEMA.

This will be the seventh nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System.

The Wireless Emergency Alerts portion of the test will be initiated using FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (known as IPAWS). It's a centralized internet-based system administered by FEMA that enables authorities to send authenticated emergency messages to the public through multiple communications networks.

This year's Emergency Alert System test message will be disseminated as a Common Alerting Protocol message via the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System-Open Platform for Emergency Networks (known as IPAWS-OPEN).

If the test is postponed because of widespread severe weather or other significant events, the back-up testing date is Oct. 11.

Among questions and answers on the fact sheet were:

Do I need to sign up to receive alerts or the national test?

No sign-up, account or subscription is needed to receive WEA or the national test. Some local governments have their own mass notification systems that require subscriptions.

Can the national test monitor, locate or lock my phone?

No.

Will the national test gather my private data?

No. Both EAS and WEA are broadcast technologies and do not collect any of your data. This test is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the systems in sending an emergency message.

What if I am on the phone at the time of the national test?

The national test will not interrupt a phone call.

I will be traveling away from home on Oct. 4. Will I still receive the national test?

If your mobile phone is on and receiving service from a participating wireless provider, you should receive the national test.

Can I opt out of the test on my phone?

Recent models of mobile phones may include a setting to opt out of tests and alerts. None of those settings will affect the 2023 national test. If your mobile phone is on and receiving service from a participating wireless provider, you should receive the national test.


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