Public alertsFirst ever national emergency alert system test

Published 13 July 2011

On 9 November 2011 at 2 pm eastern standard time, government officials will conduct the first ever test of the national emergency alert system; the test will include broadcast radio and television stations, cable TV, satellite radio, as well as wireline video service providers in all fifty states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa

On 9 November 2011 at 2 pm eastern standard time, government officials will conduct the first ever test of the national emergency alert system.

The test will include broadcast radio and television stations, cable TV, satellite radio, as well as wireline video service providers in all fifty states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will work with the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) to conduct the test, and the two organizations say they have announced it so far in advance because they “want all partners and especially the public to be aware of this test, what it means, and have plenty of time to prepare.”

“Because there has never been an activation of the Emergency Alert System on a national level, FEMA views this test as an excellent opportunity to assess the readiness and effectiveness of the current system,” said Damon Penn, FEMA’s assistant administrator of the National Continuity Program, before the House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness, Response, and Communications on 8 July.

“It is important to remember that this is not a pass or fail test, but a chance to establish a baseline for making incremental improvements to the Emergency Alert System with ongoing and future testing… While various components of the system are tested regularly, there has never been a nationwide, top-to-bottom test of the system. Also to date, there has never been a national-level or Presidential alert,” Penn added.

At the hearing, subcommittee chairman Representative Gus Bilirakia (R-Florida) emphasized the importance of having a functioning national alert system.

“Be it through television, radio, mobile devices, the internet, social media, reverse 911, or warning sirens, emergency managers and emergency response providers must have prompt and reliable means to provide information to their citizens,” he said.

The national test was originally pushed for by Julius Genachowski, the chairman of the FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau (PSHSB). In 2009 his agency issued a report to the FCC, FEMA, and the National Weather Service urging them to review the emergency alert system (EAS) to see if any improvements needed to be made and to create national alert.

His efforts resulted in the initial test of the new system in Alaska in early 2010, which led to subsequent technical and bureaucratic improvements for the system.

As part of the new system, authorities have imposed reporting requirements that were previously not found in the current state and local EAS testing process.

Local participants in the new EAS will now have to record and submit the time they received alert messages and when they responded to the FCC. This data will help provide insight in to the effectiveness of the system and where it can be improved.

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