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FEMA, FCC to conduct test of emergency broadcast, text message systems

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) says it is coordinating with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for a national test of the country’s two emergency notification systems.

The test will be conducted on Wednesday, October 4 and involve the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alert system (WEA).

The EAS test will impact broadcast radio and television stations, as well as cable television, satellite television and satellite radio services. The WEA system test will be directed to all consumer cell phones that operate on the three major networks — AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon — as well as their prepaid brands and mobile virtual network operators like Xfinity Mobile, Spectrum Mobile, Straight Talk Wireless and Tello.

“The purpose of the October 4 test is to ensure that the systems continue to be effective means of warning the public about emergencies, particularly those on the national level,” a FEMA official said in a statement on Thursday.

FEMA says the national test could be postponed if there is a severe weather outbreak or other intense emergency. If that happens, the agency said the national test will be held the following Wednesday, October 11.

FEMA and the FCC will coordinate with EAS and WEA system participants, including broadcasters, emergency managers, wireless providers and other key stakeholders, to ensure the public is educated about the test in an effort to minimize confusion.

The EAS test is expected to start around 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time (11:20 a.m. Pacific Time) and last approximately one minute. During the event, broadcast stations will visibly and audibly relay messaging that indicates the alert is part of a nation-wide test.

Wireless alerts will start transmitting around the same time. Phones and other mobile gadgets will receive alerts in either English or Spanish, depending on the language setting of the device, and the messages will clearly indicate that it is part of a national test.

FEMA says wireless data towers will transmit the message to cell phones for about 30 minutes, which means phones may not immediately receive the message, but should within the half-hour.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is the publisher of The Desk and reports on the business and policy matters involving the broadcast television, streaming video and radio industries. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, Disney-ABC, Tribune Broadcasting and McNaughton Newspapers. Matthew is based in Northern California, has won numerous awards in the field of journalism, and is a member of IRE (Investigative Reporters and Editors).