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Just a test: Emergency alert will hit your phone today

Emergency Alert
Susan Walsh
The first test of the national wireless emergency system by the Federal Emergency Management Agency is shown on a cellular phone at the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. About 225 million electronic devices across the United States received alerts from FEMA that afternoon.

  • The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission will conduct a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts
  • The test will take place about 2:20 p.m. ET on Oct. 4
  • The test will display in English and Spanish and include a unique tone and vibration

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Every cellphone, television and radio in the United States will broadcast a message simultaneously Wednesday as a test of both the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts.
The test alerts will deploy about 2:20 p.m. ET, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission.

The test is to ensure that the systems continue to be effective means of warning the public about emergencies, particularly those on the national level, according to FEMA.

While it will be the seventh time a nationwide test is broadcast to TV and radio, it will be just the second test transmitted to all cellular devices.

That test message will display in English or in Spanish, depending on the language settings of the device.

What will happen when the test is deployed to phones?

According to FEMA, the WEA part of the test will be initiated using a centralized internet-based system that can send authenticated emergency messages to the public through multiple communications networks.

The WEA test will be administered via a code sent to cellphones, and all cell towers will broadcast the test for about 30 minutes. Despite the half-hour time frame, all wireless users should receive the message only once.

The message that will appear on phones will read: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

Phones displaying the message in Spanish will read: “ESTA ES UNA PRUEBA del Sistema Nacional de Alerta de Emergencia. No se necesita acción.”

To help ensure the alerts are accessible to the entire public, including people with disabilities, the alerts will be accompanied by a unique tone and vibration.

What about TV and radio?

The EAS part of the test will last about a minute and will be conducted with the participation of radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers and wireline video providers. (Yes, that means you’ll even hear it if you’re streaming Sirius XM in your car).

The test message will state: “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.

Is it possible to turn off the alert to my phone?

During the test, all WEA-compatible wireless phones that are switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA, should be capable of receiving the test message.

But it's possible to turn it off.

According to the FCC, participating wireless carriers offer the ability to block certain alerts involving imminent threats to life and property (such as weather alerts) and Amber Alerts (which are deployed for endangered, missing or abducted children).

The test alert and other alerts can be switched off on most iPhones and on Android devices if the user goes to the notification settings and scrolls to the bottom where it says “government alerts” or “Wireless emergency alerts” (on Android devices, this may be under the safety & emergency settings).

If a national alert deployed during a true emergency, phones would not be able to block the message.

What if there's a real emergency on test day?

In case the Oct. 4 test is postponed because of widespread severe weather or other significant events, FEMA said the back-up test date is Oct. 11.