First National EAS Test Scheduled for November
WASHINGTON, June 9, 2011: The feds have scheduled
the first ever national test of the Emergency Alert System. The Federal Emergency
Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission will conduct the test Wednesday,
Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. EST. The duration may last up to three-and-a-half minutes.
A national alert enables the president to break into regular broadcasts and address
the American public during emergencies. One has never been issued in the history
of the system, established in 1951 by then President Harry Truman during the
Cold War. It was then known as CONELRAD and included the capability to jam
aircraft homing devices. It was replaced in the 1960s by the Emergency
Broadcast System, which in turn was supplanted with the current Emergency Alert
System in 1997.
The current EAS network is used by the National Weather Service, state
governments and municipalities to issue regional and local warnings. Local law
enforcement agencies use the system to issue AMBER Alerts on abducted children.
Similar to local EAS tests that are already conducted frequently, the nationwide
test will involve broadcast radio and TV stations, cable television, satellite radio
and television services and wireline video service providers across all states and
the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. The
nation and its territories are divided into 550 EAS areas.
On Nov. 9, those carriers will transmit the message audio message: “This is a
test.” All will be required to participate. The test is intended to identify
and work the bugs out of the system.
“It is important to remember that this is not a pass or fail test, but a chance to
establish a baseline for making incremental improvements to the Emergency Alert
System with ongoing and future testing,” said Damon Penn, FEMA’s assistant administrator
of National Continuity Programs. “It is also important to remember that the Emergency
Alert System is one of many tools in our communications toolbox, and we will continue
to work on additional channels that can be a lifeline of information for people
during an emergency.”
The November test is a culmination of more than two years of planning and
development. A limited-area test was done in Alaska in January of 2010, with
104 radio stations and 26 TV stations participating. There were points of
failure involving audio levels and improperly functioning encoders and
decoders. That the hardware is not configured to a single standard complicates
EAS participants are under a September deadline to implement a Common Alerting
Protocol, an advanced data format intended to standardize the alerts issued by
various federal agencies. The protocol is said to be much more complex than
regular EAS transmission, and the FCC is said to be considering an extension of
the deadline. (
See “Extension of EAS CAP
After the first test in November, weekly or monthly tests are likely to become
routine, according to the FCC.
~ Deborah D. McAdams