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FCC, FEMA, NOAA to Conduct First Nationwide Test of Emergency Alert System

10/25/2011

The FCC, in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will conduct the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) at 2 PM EST (1900 UTC) Wednesday, November 9. According to FEMA, EAS participants -- broadcasters, satellite and digital radio and television providers, and cable and wireline video providers -- “provide a critical public service to the nation as the resilient backbone of alert and warning when all other means of communication are unavailable.”

During the test -- which should last approximately three minutes -- listeners will hear a message indicating that “This is a test.” Although the EAS test may resemble the periodic monthly EAS tests that most Americans are already familiar with, there will be some differences in what viewers will see and hear. The audio message will be the same for all EAS participants.

“Due to limitations in the EAS, the video test message scroll may not be the same or indicate that ‘This is a test,’ FEMA advised on its website. “This is due to the use of the live EAN code -- the same code that would be used in an actual emergency. The text at the top of the television screen may indicate that an ‘Emergency Action Notification has been issued.’ This notification is used to disseminate a national alert and in this case, the test. In addition, the background image that appears on video screens during an alert may indicate that ‘This is a test,’ but in some instances there might not be an image at all.”

According to the FCC, the Commission and FEMA plan to reach out to organizations representing people with hearing disabilities to prepare that community for the national test. In addition, FEMA and the FCC will work with EAS participants to explore whether there are solutions to address this limitation.

The test will last for approximately three minutes; however this may vary across the country. “While state and local EAS messages are limited to two minutes, there is no time limit for national EAS alerts,” FEMA said. “To evaluate whether the system properly interprets the national message code in the national EAS test, the message duration must be longer than two minutes.”

Although local and state components of the EAS are tested on a weekly and monthly basis, there has never been an end-to-end nationwide test of the system. We need to know that the system will work as intended should public safety officials ever need to send an alert or warning to a large region of the United States. Only a complete, top-down test of the EAS can provide an appropriate diagnosis of the system’s performance.

The FCC explained that in order to minimize disruption and confusion during the EAS test, it 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 PM EST broadcast will minimize disruption during rush hours while ensuring that the test occurs during working hours across the country.”



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