Feds Set First Test Of Nationwide Emergency Alert System

FEMA, FCC, and NOAA seek better way to share natural disaster information with public.
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The Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Emergency Management Agencies, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are preparing for the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System.

Top officials from FEMA and the FCC this week sent a joint letter to governors, federal legislators, broadcasters, news networks, and other stakeholders informing them of the importance of the test and asking them to raise awareness of it among their constituencies.

"The various disasters our country has faced this year underscore the need for effective and well-tested emergency alert and warning systems that could be used in a time of real emergency, at a moment's notice," FEMA Administrator Fugate and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wrote in their letter. "The purpose of the test is to allow FEMA and the FCC to assess how well the Emergency Alert System would perform its primary function: alerting the public about a national emergency."

Officials also want to garner feedback from the public about what technological changes can be made to the system to improve its effectiveness, they said.

The test of the system--which will be similar to local tests that have occurred over the last several decades--will occur simultaneously on all broadcast radio and TV stations, cable TV systems, and satellite TV and radio systems across the United States and all U.S. territories on Wed, Nov. 9 at 2:00 p.m. EST.

The test will last 30 seconds, after which regular programming will resume. Territories affected include Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.

During the test, an audio message will interrupt programming informing people "this is only a test," and in many cases, but not all, text across the screen also will indicate the same.

The United States has been using the Emergency Alert System for more than 50 years, but has not tested it nationwide before.

The move is part of federal efforts to more promptly send out useful information to the public during disasters to reduce their effects. Earlier this year there were devastating tornados in the southwestern United States that killed more than 300, and officials believe getting information to people more quickly in such situations can help save lives.

As part of other efforts to improve disaster response, FEMA earlier this year launched new mobile applications to help people prepare for emergencies, giving them tools to share and receive information via Android-based devices.

The Department of Health and Human Services also sponsored a challenge to developers to create a Facebook application people can use to connect during an emergency.