The Emergency Alert System test: Lesson learned, catastrophe averted

After an awkward public failure 5 years ago, the FCC and FEMA put their nose to the grindstone and achieved a successful national test of the Emergency Alert System

The Emergency Alert System test: Lesson learned, catastrophe averted
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If you were watching TV at 2:20 p.m. EDT, Wednesday, Sept. 28, you would have heard and seen a test of the Emergency Alert System. You might not have thought much about it, as similar tests have been done in the past.

What made this test different was that it was a retest of a failed EAS test conducted five years ago. A live code was used to activate a national Emergency Action Notification (EAN) message that was broadcast. Five years ago, the test failed—some heard audio but saw no text, while some saw text but heard no audio. On Wednesday, the test was a success—the audio and text were successfully transmitted.

How the EAS test works

All EAS participants are required to monitor two EAS sources. The monitoring assignments are specified in the EAS State Plans with the FCC determining  priorities.

When an EAN message is received, within 60 seconds, each participating station is required to broadcast the appropriate EAS codes, an Attention Signal, and then a sign-off message instructing viewers and listeners to stand by or tune to another station for news and official information. As official information is received, it is then communicated either automatically or manually.

Why would EAS be used?

Three categories define when the EAS may be used to notify the public. 

1. Emergency

A situation poses an extraordinary threat to the safety of life and property. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Natural situations such as tornadoes, flash floods, icing conditions, heavy snows and fires
  • Man-made situations such as the discharge of hazardous materials, power failures, industrial explosions, civil disorders and nuclear incidents

2. Severe weather watch

A severe weather WATCH indicates that the probabilities of a particular severe weather storm are high, and an alert to the public of such severe weather conditions is required.

3. Severe weather warning

A severe weather WARNING indicates that a particular severe weather storm has been sighted in an area or is indicated by radar, and serves notice to the public that severe weather conditions are almost certain to occur.

Who can activate the EAS?

In addition to reasons for use, the authorization for use has to come from an authenticated source. In addition to the President of the United States, activation may arrive from the following sources:

State-level official: A request for activation may be directed to the State Primary (SP) source by the governor, his designated representative, the National Weather Service, or the State Office of Emergency Services.

Other designated government officials may be found in the published State EAS Plan, which should be available from the local Office of Emergency Management.

Local-level official: A request for activation may also be directed to the Local Primary (LP) source by the National Weather Service, Local Emergency Management or Public Safety Officials.

The best time to prepare for any emergency is before it happens. The worst time to go food shopping is right before a hurricane or blizzard hits. For businesses, it’s more than milk and bread and batteries, and the government is there to help. In the event you feel like reviewing your readiness state, visiting http://Ready.Gov will provide you with an ample supply of reading material and valuable resources for personal and business use that will make any hazardous condition or circumstance more tolerable and survivable.

Ask yourself the simple question: “What would I do if ________ happened right this instant?” Then put together an action plan for you and your co-workers. You just might be tomorrow's hero.

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