What is a 'Presidential Alert'?
"This is a test of the Emergency Alert System. This is only a test..."
You've heard that warning before, but it may soon come directly from the White House.
The Federal Communications Commission has approved plans to hold the first test of a "Presidential Alert," or a broadcast warning that might be issued in the event of a serious natural disaster or terrorism threat.
It may seem like a scene out of George Orwell's "1984" or some other apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster, but government officials have wanted for years to establish a way for the White House to quickly, directly alert Americans of impending danger.
Commissioners voted last week to require television and radio stations, cable systems and satellite TV providers to participate in a test that would have them receive and transmit a live code that includes an alert message issued by the president. No date has been set for the test.
It would be a national version of the tests that already occur everyday on broadcast television stations to test a system that issues warning when tornadoes or severe thunderstorms strike or AMBER Alerts are issued for missing children.
"There's never been a test from top to bottom where it's issued by FEMA and it goes straight down to all the different levels of EAS to the American public," Lisa Fowlkes, with the FCC's public safety and homeland security bureau told Federal News Radio on Monday. "So this is a way for us to glean, okay, if there were an actual emergency and the federal government needed to activate the Presidential EAS, making sure that it actually works the way it's designed to."
Before the test, the FCC, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Weather Service must work together to warn the country of the impending test by producing a national public awareness campaign.
Separately, FEMA is working on a new system that would send emergency alerts as text messages to wireless phone users. The system is still about two years away from full implementation, according to the agency.
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| February 8, 2011; 5:53 AM ET
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