by Jack Minor –
For the first time, the federal government will be conducting a nationwide test of the Emergency Broadcast System on all television and radio stations simultaneously.
We are all familiar with the occasional test on radio or television stations, with the alert followed by the words “this is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System.”
However, in the past all tests were conducted by individual stations at various times. The government wants to conduct a nationwide test to see how the system would function in an actual national emergency.
The test will be conducted at 2 p.m. local time on Wednesday, Nov. 9 and will affect every television broadcast, including satellite and cable, as well as every radio station in the country. The test is scheduled to last three minutes.
There is concern that people seeing the service interruption may not realize it is a test and could overwhelm the 911 system.
Phil Petree, President of NeighborhoodWatchAlerts.com, which helps individuals and authorities alert each other regarding threats or suspicious activities in neighborhoods, said the test will not have the traditional “this is only a test” warning.
The important thing to know about this test is that FEMA is using a code for an actual emergency so the text at the top of the television screen may indicate that an “Emergency Action Notification has been issued,” Petree said, “This notification is used to disseminate a REAL national alert and in this case, the test. Because this is an actual alert code, the background image that appears on video screens indicating “This is a test” may not appear and when users flip channels and see or hear the alert on all channels the fear is this could cause uninformed users to panic and call 911, and flooding the 911 system could put lives as risk by preventing callers with actual emergencies from getting help they need.”
The FCC states that it is unsure how the system will perform during the test. “Emergency Alert System (EAS) Participants currently participate in state-level monthly tests and local-level weekly tests, but no top-down review of the entire system has ever been undertaken. The Commission, along with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will use the results of this nationwide test to assess the reliability and effectiveness of the EAS as a public alert mechanism, and will work together with EAS stakeholders to make improvements to the system as appropriate.”
Comcast sent out an e-mail advising customers that, in rare cases, they may need to use their remote to channel up and then channel down or power down their box to fully restore programming after the test. Any DVR recordings during the test will be interrupted and could be lost.
Critics have questioned the timing, asking why the government could not have conducted the test in the early morning hours to avoid the possibility of panic similar to what happened when Orson Welles broadcast “War of the Worlds.” In that case people turning into the broadcast late were unaware it was simply a radio show and believed that Martians had invaded the world.