Back in February, most of Boise was startled awake by the unnecessarily terrifying emergency alert about a missing elderly woman at 12:30 a.m. That chorus of sirens and buzzing is going to happen again, but at least this time we have a heads-up. 

This time around, it’s a test…only a test. 

Man with smartphone and tablet computer in restaurant
Adam Radosavljevic

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) have scheduled a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) for Wednesday, October 4. That means at 12:20 p.m. MT, anyone with a WEA-compatible cell phone that’s turned on and within range of a cell tower, will get the emergency alert sent to their phone. 

According to FEMA’s release, that message will read:

 “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” 

In the case of an actual emergency, this system can be used by authorized federal, state, local, tribal and territorial government agencies to reach the public in geo-targeted areas. National alerts can be issued by the President of the United States or the Administrator of FEMA. In smaller, geographical areas they can be used to push out imminent threats to safety or life-like severe weather, Amber alerts for missing children and other alerts about saving lives/property. 

Wireless Emergency Alerts Praised and Criticized

The National Weather Service credits the alerts for saving lives when a tornado ripped through Elmira, New York and damaged 2,000 structures in 2012. Miraculously there were no injuries reported because people saw the warning on their phones and got to safety quickly. A year later, a tornado ripped through East Windsor, Connecticut and a camp counselor received the text with enough time to get 29 kids out of a building that was later picked up and destroyed. Those are the stories you love to hear. 

Photo by Frederik Lipfert on Unsplash
Photo by Frederik Lipfert on Unsplash

But sometimes the alerts can cause absolute and unnecessary panic. In the case of the Boise alert we mentioned earlier, people panicked because the alert was sent in the middle of the night. While we’re pretty sure that everyone hoped that Brenda was found safely, the chances of people springing out of bed to organize a search party at 12:30 a.m. were pretty low. Many felt that the alert could’ve waited until a more appropriate hour. 

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At least in Boise, there was actually a reason for sending the alert. That same couldn’t have been said for the Hawaii alert that was sent out in error in January 2018. People panicked when they read:

“Emergency Missle Threat Inbound to Hawaii. Seek Immediate Shelter. This is Not a Drill.” 

2018 WEA Test Misunderstood By Public

A similar test occurred in October 2018 and people were furious about it. Why? Because, at the time the test had been nicknamed a “Presidential Alert” by the media. While the message was nearly identical to the one we’ll receive this October, critics of then-President Donald Trump felt that being able to text the American public with a click of a button was an overreach. In reality, the test had nothing to do with the President at all. It was administered by FEMA and the FCC.

US President Donald Trump Arrives At The White House
Credit: Getty Images/Pool

We don’t know how successful the 2018 test really was, because we didn’t receive it. A lot of you told us that you didn’t either. 

Test to Interrupt TV and Radio Broadcasts

Aleksandr Zyablitskiy
Aleksandr Zyablitskiy

In addition to testing the WEA on October 4, there will also be a national EAS test at 12:20 MT. That lasts about 60 seconds and will sound or look similar to other weekly/monthly tests that already air on your favorite radio station, television broadcast or satellite radio. 

In the event of severe weather or other significant events, this test will move to October 11. (They did utilize the backup date in 2018 due to Hurricane Florence.) 

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