What They SayIn a previous news release announcing the Oct. 4 test, FEMA said the message to cellphones will read: "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."
A separate message will be sent to televisions and radios. It will say: "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." The message sent via radio or television will last about a minute and will include the familiar electronic sound before the message plays.
Cellphones will be sent a test alert message as long as the device is "switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA,” or wireless emergency alerts. WEAs are described as emergency messages "that are sent directly to your phone by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier," including FEMA, the FCC, state agencies, and the U.S. National Weather Service.
Why?The joint action will be carried out by the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The agencies made their announcement about the test message in early August.
Under federal law, television and radio broadcasters have to follow the nation's EAS to take over channels or stations "within 10 minutes during a national emergency," FEMA's website says.
Prior AlertsThe test alert scheduled for October isn't the first time it has been deployed. On Aug. 11, 2021, FEMA and the FCC carried out what they said was the sixth nationwide test of the EAS. Prior tests were conducted in 2011, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, according to FEMA.
Such messages are designed to be a test in the case of actual emergencies, officials say. It's designed to see whether the system can run smoothly if there is a natural disaster, terrorism, a nuclear attack, or another danger to public safety.
"The EAS national test in 2021 was very similar to regular monthly tests typically originated by state authorities. During the test, radios and televisions across the country interrupted normal programming to play the EAS test message in English or Spanish," it said. "The EAS test message lasted approximately one minute long and the audio said."
False AlarmsThere have, however, been false alarms over the years. Notably, a false alert was sent out in 2018 in Hawaii when the state's Emergency Management System erroneously warned that a ballistic missile attack on the islands was imminent.
It said: "Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound To Hawaii. Seek Immediate Shelter. This Is Not A Drill." Officials took about 30 minutes to clarify that the message was sent out in error.
In 2022, during wildfires in California, an immediate evacuation notice was sent by the Los Angeles County Office of Emergency Management for Los Angeles, the Eastern North Pacific Ocean, and Port Conception to Guadalupe. The text listed "Eastern North Pacific Ocean" or "Eastern North Pacific" twelve different times before the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said it was an error.