Don’t Panic—This Is A Test Of The Emergency Broadcast System

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Need to Know from SafeWise
  • Tomorrow is the nationwide, all-device Nationwide Emergency Alert Test.
  • The test should hit your phone (and every other broadcast device) at 2:20 p.m. EDT tomorrow afternoon.
  • If an actual emergency or weather event happens on October 4, the test will be delayed until October 11.

I remember when that test message would come up on the TV with its loud, long beep—interrupting your favorite show and reassuring you over and over again that "this is only a test."

Well, times have changed, and so has the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS). Gone is the singular system that used TV and radio waves to let us know of impending doom. Today, we have both the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)—and these disseminate critical emergency information over TV, radio, satellite, and wireless signals.

test pattern with "please standby"

Image: shaunl

Big Emergency Alert System test coming tomorrow

FEMA and the FCC will run a nationwide, all-device test of the EAS and WEA on Wednesday, October 4, 2023, around 2:20 p.m. ET.

Both FEMA and the FCC want to reassure the public that this is merely a test and there is no need for alarm. The nationwide test is a standard practice that has been conducted before, aimed at maintaining the functionality and reliability of the alert systems.

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What to expect during the test

The WEA portion will target all consumer cell phones during the test, while radios and televisions will transmit the EAS portion. The message for the WEA test will appear on cell phones within a 30-minute window, reading:

"THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."
This message will be displayed in either English or Spanish, depending on the language preference set by the device owner.

The EAS portion of the test will last for approximately one minute. Radio and television broadcasters, cable providers, satellite radio and TV providers, as well as wireline video providers, will participate in broadcasting the test 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."

It's important to note that in the event of severe weather or another significant incident around the scheduled test time, the tests will be postponed and rescheduled for Wednesday, October 11.

Why run a nationwide test now?

After a string of extreme weather events and the failure of warning systems in the recent Maui wildfires, it's not surprising that FEMA and the FCC chose now to plan a nationwide test.
Over the past few weeks, states including Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Nevada, California, and Washington have encountered devastating natural disasters—from wildfires and unprecedented temperatures to tropical storms and the impact of Hurricane Idalia.

FEMA and the FCC stress the importance of these regular tests in maintaining public safety and preparedness for potential emergencies. The tests provide an opportunity to assess the systems' functionality and address potential issues, ensuring that the alerts can effectively reach the public when needed. This nationwide drill serves as a reminder of the dedication and effort put into keeping communication channels open during times of crisis.

History of the Emergency Broadcast System

The EAS is basically the same as the familiar EBS that we all (or at least I) grew up with; the EAS started operations on January 1, 1997, and effectively replaced the EBS. Its principal advancement over the EBS—and perhaps its most distinguishable characteristic—lies in its utilization of a digitally encoded audio signal referred to as Specific Area Message Encoding (SAME).

This innovative technology generates distinct "chirping" or "screeching" sounds at the start and end of each transmitted message. The initial signal, known as the "header," contains crucial information, including the type of alert and designated locations, outlining the specific area intended to receive the message. The final brief burst marks the conclusion of the message.
Both iterations of the system share one primary function—enabling the President of the United States to communicate with the entire nation via all available broadcast avenues in the event of a national emergency.

Interestingly, neither the current nor former systems have been employed in this capacity. Wide-ranging news coverage during critical events, as demonstrated during incidents like the September 11 attacks, has been attributed to rendering the use of the system redundant. In practice, the system operates on a regional level, disseminating information concerning imminent threats to public safety, such as severe weather conditions, AMBER Alerts, and other civil emergencies.

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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