What Was That Emergency Alert On My Phone? FEMA & FCC Test Nationwide Alert To Cellular Devices, TVs & Radios In October

While Americans are getting increasingly used to emergency alerts from local police and fire officials, on October 4 at 2:20 p.m. ET they’ll receive something a little different.

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed,” the alert should read. It will be sent to all consumer cell phones in either English or in Spanish, depending on the language settings of the wireless handset.

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Simultaneously, an emergency alert will also be sent out to radios and televisions. It will be much like those viewers receive monthly as part of the Emergency Alert System and accompanied by that prolonged “unique tone,” as FEMA terms it.

This is only the second time a national alert test has been sent to all cellular devices and the seventh time such a message has been sent to radios and TVs. While most emergency communications are regional – Angelenos got one earlier this month about that earthquake – these tests anticipate a truly national emergency.

Here is sample text provided by the agency:

“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.”

Wireless phones should receive the message only once if they are switched on, within range of an active cell tower and if the applicable wireless provider participates in Wireless Emergency Alert System. Cell towers will broadcast the test for approximately 30 minutes, according to FEMA.

The test to TVs and radios “is scheduled to last approximately one minute and will be conducted with the participation of radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers and wireline video providers.”

Should the Oct. 4 test be preempted by other significant events, the back-up date is Oct. 11. 

Wireless Emergency Alerts are created and sent by authorized federal, state, local, tribal and territorial government agencies to residents in geo-targeted areas. In this case, that means the entire U.S.

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