National wireless alert set for Wednesday

Published 10:07 pm Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Citizens across the country can expect to get the same text message as everybody else on Wednesday. It will mark the first use for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s direct alerts for cell phone users.

In coordination with the Federal Communications Commission, FEMA will conduct a nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alerts and Emergency Alert System on Wednesday afternoon. The test was originally planned for Sept. 20 but was postponed due to ongoing response efforts for Hurricane Florence.

The WEA test message will be sent to cell phones that are connected to wireless providers participating in emergency alerts at 2:18 p.m. Eastern time. Cell towers will broadcast the WEA test for approximately 30 minutes, during which any WEA-compliant cell phones that are switched on and are within range of an active cell tower will be capable of receiving the message.

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There will also be an EAS test conducted at 2:20 p.m. by broadcasters that follows the system’s typical weekly and monthly tests. The EAS test message will also include a reference to the WEA test.

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Emergency Alert System,” the WEA message will read. “This system was developed by broadcast and cable operators in voluntary cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and local authorities to keep you informed in the event of an emergency.

“If this had been an actual emergency, an official message would have followed the tone alert you heard at the start of this message. A similar wireless emergency alert test message has been sent to all cell phones in the nation. Some cell phones will receive the message. Others will not. No action is required.”

This is first national WEA test and the fourth EAS nationwide test. Previous EAS national tests were conducted in November 2011, September 2016 and September 2017 in collaboration with the FCC, broadcasters and emergency management officials in recognition of FEMA’s National Preparedness Month, according to

The WEA system warns the public about dangerous weather, missing children and other critical situations via cell phone alerts.

Antwane Johnson, director of Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Program Management Office, and other experts addressed several concerns over the WEA system during a Tuesday teleconference, including whether President Donald Trump may be able to use this system to convey political messages.

According to Johnson, the president will not be directly triggering the alert, citing the IPAWS Modernization Act of 2015 and other legislation for the precise protocols that these alerts follow.

“Those laws on the use of the system are very clear that these technologies are to be used for national emergencies or other public peril,” Johnson said, adding that the protocols, laws and policies for using these systems are “well established and well understood.” “You would not have a situation where any sitting president would just wake up one morning and attempt to send a personal message,” he said.

Approximately 75-percent of mobile devices in the country are expected to receive the emergency alert on Wednesday, estimated to be upwards of 225 million individual devices.

Others that aren’t expected to receive the message include those with configuration issues and those that are actively being used for calls or data transmission during the alert.

There are also those who will have opted out of receiving the message voluntarily, although experts urged those individuals to reconsider.

“They could prevent themselves from receiving critical life-saving information during some localized event and at the national level, the same thing applies,” Johnson said. “My message to them would be to opt in … and comply with the direction provided to them by their public safety officials.”

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