Emergency Alert
The National Emergency Alert System will go through a nationwide test on Nov. 9. Image: Flickr / wadem / CC-BY

For the first time ever, the National Emergency Alert System will be fully tested on Nov. 9. This test will cover all radio, television, satellite radio and broadcast satellite providers; location-aware alert systems that focus on wireless systems are due to come online in 2012.

Alert system test

The Federal Emergency Management Administration and the FCC co-manage the Emergency Alert System in the United States. Local broadcasters regularly test their systems, but the national system has never been tested. On Nov. 9, the system will be tested, top-to-bottom, for approximately 30 seconds. The test will be done with audio and visual cues, intended to verify that the test is noticeable to all deaf, hard of hearing and non-English speakers. Several problems have already been uncovered, including incompatibilities with closed captioning and digital broadcast systems.

Moving toward an upgrade

This nationwide test of the Alert System is the first step toward a more modern emergency system in the United States. The FCC is also working on developing both the Commercial Mobile Alert System and the Personalized Local Alert Network, both of which are systems that would use cellular and wireless networks to deliver alerts to specific geographical areas via cell phones and electronic communication devices. All cell phone carriers are required to update their hardware and software to accept these alerts by mid-2012.

Uses of the Emergency Alert System

The Emergency Alert System is, more often than not, used for weather alerts. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration triggers these alerts, but only the President of the United States has authority to trigger the National Emergency Alert System. Local emergency alert systems are triggered by everything from Amber Alerts to severe weather, and the Commercial Mobile Alert System and PLAN would both follow these more detailed location-based alerts, rather than the national system.

Sources

Business Week http://www.businessweek.com/news/2011-11-08/emergency-alert-test-to-interrupt-tv-radio-broadcasts-in-u-s-.html
ABC News http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/11/national-emergency-alert-test-to-be-held-wednesday/
FCC.gov http://transition.fcc.gov/pshs/services/eas/

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