If your mobile phone starts buzzing with a message from Donald Trump on Oct. 3, don’t be alarmed — it’s a test, and only a test, of the U.S. government’s expanded emergency alert system.
It will be the first national test of wireless alerts by the U.S. government, and officials estimate that more than 200 million Americans will receive the “Presidential Alert” test.
According to government officials, users cannot opt out of receiving the test “Presidential Alert” message. That’s because Congress, in the legislation that established the wireless-alert system, allowed participating carriers to let subscribers block any emergency alerts except for those issued by the sitting U.S. president.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, in coordination with the FCC, will conduct the nationwide test of both the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. It was originally scheduled for Sept. 20, to coincide with FEMA’s National Preparedness Month, but was postponed because of the response to Hurricane Florence.
The test message will have a header that reads “Presidential Alert” and text that says: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” Unlike a regular text message, the “Presidential Alert” message (as with other WEA alerts) will include a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice, according to FEMA.
The Wireless Emergency Alerts portion of the test will begin at 2:18 p.m. ET on Oct. 3, and the EAS portion — via radio and TV broadcasters, cable providers, satellite radio and TV operators, and wireline video providers — will follow at 2:20 p.m. ET, lasting about one minute.
During the test, all WEA-compatible cell phones that are switched on and within range of an active cell tower of a participating wireless provider will receive the test message.
On a call with reporters Friday, FEMA officials said the WEA test on Oct. 3 was scheduled in accordance with federal directives, not in response to the false alert about an incoming ballistic missile issued to residents of Hawaii in January 2018. The national test is intended to assess the capabilities of the emergency-alert system.
A “Presidential Alert” would be issued in the event of an actual national emergency — such as a declaration of war or coordinated terrorist attacks — when the U.S. president (or his or her designee) determines such an alert is warranted.
The Wireless Emergency Alert system is used to notify Americans about dangerous weather from the National Weather Service, missing children (AMBER Alerts), and other urgent situations from federal, state and local government authorities through mobile-phone alerts. Since its launch in 2012, the WEA system been used more than 40,000 times. The system also lets government officials target emergency alerts to specific geographic areas, such as lower Manhattan.