Tomorrow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US will run a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). It will begin at 2pm EST and will run concurrently across all time zones. The system is designed to transmit a nationwide message to the American public and will be broadcast on cable and radio networks. This is the first time the test has been run at the same time in all parts of the nation. A Next Generation EAS system is currently being developed to incorporate other public alert and warning systems and will enable consumers to receive alerts through a variety of multi-media platforms on their smart-phones, blackberries and other mobile broadband devices.
A PRODUCT OF THE COLD WAR
EAS has evolved out of Conelrad, (have a look at the Wikipedia link – it’s fascinating stuff, straight out of a black-and-white movie) a method of emergency broadcasting that was designed to alert and inform the public in the event of enemy attack during the Cold War. Although the method of alert was simple – switching the transmitter on and off – it was prone to false alarms, particularly during lightening storms! In 1963 it became the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) and was expanded for use during peacetime emergencies at state and local levels. It was replaced in 1997 with the EAS in place today. Like the EBS, the EAS is also used to warn the public of weather emergencies, like tornadoes and flash floods, and to allow the President of the United States to address the nation within ten minutes.
The test scheduled for tomorrow will run for three minutes, most messages in the past were anywhere from thirty seconds to one minute. There is concern among local police and emergency management personnel that the message might create panic as the message displayed on TV might not indicate that it is a test. They are working hard to spread the message and increase awareness to minimise the risk of it being interpreted as a real emergency.
WHAT TO EXPECT
The EAS signal is an audio message, which pre-empts all programming, and does not include any kind of visual element. Any emergency information would be delivered aurally. There will be an attention signal (help·info) to… well…, get your attention, and some kind of EAS test-card on the screen, if you are watching TV (see above, it may not necessarily contain the word TEST). Have a look at the video below for some visuals and an explanation from someone who looks like he knows what he’s talking about…
Here in Canada, because we receive US broadcasts, it’s important to get the message out, to avoid any panic and confusion.