Emergency alert test going out to mobile phones nationwide

Thursday, 04 Oct, 2018

A nationwide wireless emergency test was sent out Wednesday afternoon, as the Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted its first "presidential alert".

Millions of US cell phones buzzed and beeped on Wednesday during the first test of a presidential alert system that would warn the public of a national emergency, such as an imminent attack. Despite the text saying "no action is needed", people did react: with anger, laughter, frustration, and even memes.

Officials estimated Tuesday that upwards of 225 million US mobile phones and other devices like smartwatches would receive the alerts broadcast by cell towers, or about 75 percent of all devices. Some got as many as four alerts on their phones; others didn't get any. Along with the occasional AMBER Alert, Elder said the WEA and its state-level counterpart the Wireless Emergency Network (WEN) also sent out messages during the July 19 tornadoes in several counties. Two minutes after the cell phone test, another alert to test the Emergency Alert System will be broadcast on radio and television.

"Presidential Alerts are not to be used for general communication, and will only be used in cases of extreme national emergencies that affect public safety".

It's not clear how successful the test was.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimated about 225 million electronic devices, or about 75 percent of all mobile phones in the country, would receive the alert.

Get set for a "presidential alert" as FEMA tests a national emergency notification system.

All freaking out aside, the wireless alert system actually launched in 2012 when Barack Obama was president, so it's been around for a while.

FEMA invites the public to send comments on the nationwide EAS-WEA test to FEMA-National-Test@fema.dhs.gov. Three people sued, claiming it violates their constitutional rights. The lawsuit said the alert system violates the First and Fourth Amendments by failing to give people the chance to opt-out.

That questionnaire can be found online here. The alert can not be a personal message on behalf of the president.

It is unknown if Trump will attempt to misuse this power as a political tool to make announcements.

The system will affect users with a USA phone number, as well as some visitors, the agency said, and it is not possible to opt out, though some older phones do not support the technology.

Unless you were one of the few lucky folks to miss out on FEMA's unleashing of Wednesday's forecast "Presidential Alert," you might be recovering from the event as we speak.