Your smartphone will be used for a test of Federal Emergency Management Agency communications capabilities on Wednesday.
The government announced Tuesday that the Wireless Emergency Alerts System and Emergency Alert System will be tested at 2:18 p.m. Eastern Time. It will temporarily suspend cell phone service, and the government will communicate directly with you.
“The test will assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether improvements are needed,” FEMA said on Tuesday.
“The WEA test message will be sent to cell phones that are connected to wireless providers participating in WEA. This is the fourth EAS nationwide test and the first national WEA test. Previous EAS national tests were conducted in November 2011, September 2016, and September 2017 in collaboration with the FCC, broadcasters, and emergency management officials in recognition of FEMA’s National Preparedness Month.
“Cell towers will broadcast the WEA test for approximately 30 minutes beginning at 2:18 p.m. EDT. During this time, WEA compatible cell phones that are switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA should be capable of receiving the test message. Some cell phones will not receive the test message, and cell phones should only receive the message once. The WEA 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.'”
FEMA says the system is used to issue warnings to the public about dangerous weather, missing children and “other critical situations.”
It would give “the president with the communications capability to address the nation during a national emergency.”
The test was scheduled for Sept. 20 but delayed by the emergency operations responding to Hurricane Florence.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center was not pleased.
“Cell phone users cannot opt out of the test. The president has sole authority to determine when the alert will be activated. The test will use the same special tone and vibration as with alerts for Tornado Warnings and AMBER Alerts,” EPIC said.
“It is unclear why the alert is designated a ‘Presidential Alert’ or when it may be issued. In 2006, the Department of Homeland Security established a secret procedure – ‘SOP 303’ – to suspend cell phone services. EPIC sued the agency after government officials disabled wireless service during a peaceful protest at a San Francisco metro station in 2011.”