Illinois, St. Louis Stations Impacted by Inadvertent EAS Trigger

Several hundred radio stations, as well some TV stations were affected by an EAS mistake this week, according to TV Technology sister publication, Radio World.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency was testing new EAS equipment; what was supposed to be a closed-circuit test of the 10-minute presidential alert message from FEMA to stations in the Richmond, Va., and Cleveland markets actually was broadcast to some 500 stations in Illinois and neighboring St. Louis.

Starting at 7:30 on Tuesday, June 26, up to about 8 a.m., depending on when each station in the chain got the message, their programming was taken over for between 2-10 minutes, depending on when the engineers were able to cut off the EAN. All listeners in the Chicago area, for example, heard the alert tones and then WGN's regular programming (with no explanation), according to sources. In other parts of the state, listeners would have heard dead air after the alert tones.

A monthly test would have lasted for two minutes, as opposed to the 10-minute presidential alert.

A FEMA spokesman told Radio World that stats are still being compiled, but FEMA believes stations in states that border Illinois could have also been affected by the errant EAS message. In addition to the stations in Illinois and St. Louis, FEMA believes stations in parts of Wisconsin, northern Indiana and southwestern Michigan could have received the false presidential alert too.

The errant presidential alert message actually points to the fragility of EAS, one engineer told Radio World; and the sooner the current way alerts are broadcast becomes a background method, the better, he said.

FEMA says it's trying to upgrade EAS with satellite delivery, and the snafu occurred in Illinois because a contractor improperly installed equipment and "basically created an open loop. That system was not supposed to be on line," the source said.

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency said in a statement that it had no advance warning of the test and that "the federal government" used a "hot" or active code rather than a test code for the test message.