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FEMA moving forward with national emergency message test

The test will involve sending messages to cell phones and broadcast via radio and television stations across the country.

The test will involve sending messages to cell phones and broadcast via radio and television stations across the country.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is moving forward with a national test of the Wireless Emergency Alert system via cell phones and the Emergency Alert System on radio and television broadcast stations.

The test, first announced in August, will take place on Wednesday, October 4 at 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time (11:20 a.m. Pacific Time), and will see a test message sent through the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS).

“We want to make sure when it counts, we can keep you informed,” Deanne Criswell, the administrator of FEMA, said in a statement on Monday.

Wireless providers that participate in the Wireless Emergency Alert system will receive and redistribute a test message on behalf of IPAWS that will explain the nature of the test. All three major carriers — AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon — participate in WEA, and since their networks serve as the backbone of mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), subscribers of third-party wireless phone services like Xfinity Mobile, TracFone, Straight Talk Wireless, Visible, Cricket and Metro by T-Mobile should also receive the alerts.

Due to the nature of mobile phone transmissions, most phones will receive the WEA test message around 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time, but some wireless devices might not get the test message right away. All devices should receive it within 15 minutes of its transmission.

At the same time, the Emergency Alert System will be activated to receive a test message from IPAWS, with the message being broadcast on participating radio and television stations across the country. Some cable television operators may also retransmit the national test message, and viewers who are watching a local broadcast station through a streaming service like YouTube TV or DirecTV Stream may also see a locally-transmitted test message.

Both the WEA and EAS messages will make it clear that they are part of a national test, and that no actual emergency is taking place. The national test is necessary to ensure WEA and EAS equipment is working across mobile phone and broadcast partners, so if an actual emergency takes place, citizens can be notified about the nature of an emergency and what they need to do either in preparation or response to it.

FEMA and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) say the national IPAWS test could be delayed if there is a significant emergency — like a widespread severe weather breakout — somewhere in the country, one that would normally require a regional WEA and EAS activation. If that happens, the national IPAWS test will be delayed to Wednesday, October 11.

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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).