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Emergency Alert System Test

The Emergency Alert System still has a few bugs.

When it comes to emergency management and disaster preparation, communication is king. On November 9th, FEMA conducted a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). In 1997, the EAS replaced the Emergency Broadcast System which had been in use since 1963. The current system uses the familiar signal-sound to alert viewers and listeners to impending emergency announcements and to enable localized hazardous weather alerts. But the EAS was developed in order to allow the President of the United States the ability to address the nation within minutes.

With about 15,000 radio and broadcast stations participating in the November 2011 national test, most reported a smooth testing procedure, but it was not without its hiccups. Improving the test is an ongoing goal of both the government and broadcast partners which requires the public and private sector working together for a worthwhile common goal of improved emergency communications.

Here are some of the glitches that occurred during the test:

  • One North Dakota county reported that only 33 percent of the area stations broadcasted the test.
  • Some DirectTV subscribers heard a different kind of piercing sound than everyone else—footage of Lady Gaga singing instead of the test alert.
  • Some Time Warner Cable subscribers saw home-shopping wares in place of the emergency alert.
  • Individuals using antennas for reception reported that they saw regular programming, or that the EAS image stayed on the screen long after the audible test was completed.

Despite these glitches, the federal agencies involved assured the public that they were conducting a working test, and that data would be gathered and evaluated in order to improve the system. They even sent out a release prior to the test to make it clear that they were not anticipating a 100-percent success rate. One of their reasons for anticipated glitches was because there are so many stations throughout the country, each one with specialized equipment necessary to successfully accept and transmit the test signal and associated emergency announcement.

A frequent criticism of the EAS is that it ignores new communication methods which most people rely on such as the Internet and mobile devices. The EAS was not sent via either of these channels. However, there is a new initiative called the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) which aims to integrate several alert methods and agencies in order to greatly enhance coverage.

Here are a few interesting facts about the new system:

  • Intended as an umbrella system that integrates EAS, the National Warning System (phone-based alerts), NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards and the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS).
  • Created in response to criticisms about the government alerts for Hurricane Katrina and other similar disasters.
  • Works with the major cell providers to allow the government to send text alerts regarding emergencies. Scheduled to be online in the spring of 2012, the messages from CMAS will have a unique signal and vibration so they will stand out from standard text messages.

Business owners should take a cue from the national warning system, planning in advance of emergencies and developing coordinated methods for communicating urgent messages to their teams. Companies should use multiple technologies including text message, email and available building intercom systems to ensure that occupants and staff members are aware of building-specific emergencies. What’s more, internal systems should be tested once they are implemented.

When a disaster strikes, prior planning and clear decisive action can help save lives.  For the latest emergency management training for facility/building managers, contact Allied Universal, Inc. Our new Version 2.5 e-based training system offers the best emergency training system with automated and integrated features. Visit for more information and remember to BE SAFE.

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