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National US Emergency Alert System Test on Nov. 9

At the end of this month, we will be celebrating the 73rd anniversary of the airing of the Mercury Theater on the Air radio drama “The War of the Worlds” that was broadcast on the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Now although I missed this broadcast by a good 23 years or so, I’m certainly aware of its fame and notoriety, and the ensuing panic that was caused as the first 40 min. of this broadcast were presented as a series of simulated news bulletins which suggested to many listeners that an actual alien invasion was taking place in a little town called Grover’s Mill in Mercer County New Jersey.

Aliens invading New Jersey? People that know me, are saying “Ok, here comes the punchline . . . . “, but that one is just a little too easy, so go ahead and insert your own favorite New Jersey joke here:


For those of you familiar with late-night TV on Saturday during the past few decades, you have heard a familiar voice at NBC announcing “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night”. But if you grew up in the metropolitan New York City area, you also heard that same voice announce many times, “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System”.

Established in 1963, the FCC put into effect the “Emergency Broadcast System”. The system was designed to provide the President of the United States with an method of communicating with the American public on all broadcast stations (AM, FM and television) in the event of a national emergency. Although it was use locally in several areas of the country, it was never been activated on a national level, and the system was retired in January of 1998. It was replaced by a new state-of-the-art Emergency Alert System (EAS) which also provided access to broadcast stations, cable systems and participating satellite programmers. EAS uses digital codes and can originate messages to specific geographic areas as well as the entire country.

If you watch late-night TV, quite often interrupting the latest gadget Sully Sullivan is selling at an amazing low price, plus of course shipping and handling, you may have seen a bright red text scroll across the top of your television accompanied by an annoying alerting tone. But the system has never been tested on the national level, up until now.


Next month, on November 9, 2011, at 2 PM Eastern Standard Time, the national EAS test will be conducted jointly by the Department of Homeland Security through its Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS).

FEMA will initiate the test by transmitting the EAS code for national level emergencies to Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations in the national level of the EAS. The PEP stations will then rebroadcast the alert to the general public in their broadcast vicinity, as well to the next level of EAS participants monitoring them. This will continue to cascade down through all different levels until the national alert has been distributed throughout the entire country.

What should you do? During the test, you may hear a message indicating that “THIS IS A TEST” however visual indications may not indicate a test. The reason for this, is that they are using a “live” national code that would actually be used during an event. The test is anticipated on lasting about 2 min., however there is no time limit for national EAS alerts.

So once again, on November 9, 2011 at 2 PM in the afternoon Eastern time, call the neighbors, wake up the kids, and remember to tell them “this is only a test.”

For more information on the EAS system, and the national test, you can visit the FCC’s page at www.FCC.gov/nationaleastest


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Until next week. . . dial carefully.



Mark J. Fletcher, ENP, is Avaya's Chief Architect for Worldwide Public Safety Solutions. With a telecommunications career spanning three decades, his role is to define the strategic roadmap and deliver thought leadership for Avaya's Next-Generation Emergency Services solutions. In the U.S., he represents Avaya on the NENA Institute Board, and is co-vice chairman of the EENA NG112 Committee in the European Union. In Washington D.C., Fletch contributes technical guidance to various committees at the Federal Communications Commission, dealing with Optimal PSAP Architecture and Disabilities Access. more

2 Responses to “National US Emergency Alert System Test on Nov. 9”

  1. So the test is on 11/9 eh?…Hmmmmm…11/9 -9/11?? – just a coincidence, I’m sure. Anyway, there are some questions I have regarding this system:

    1) As I understand it, the interruption of commercial broadcasts – TV, cable, radio, etc. – will no longer be under the control of the broadcast operators as in the past. In the “old days�, the EBS signal was received by the broadcasters and actuated by each transmit facility. Failure to do so could result in heavy fines, or worse! Instead, the interruption will now be controlled electronically from a central “authority�, i.e., the government. Is this an accurate representation of the new operating system?

    2) You noted – in passing – that there was no arbitrary time limit set for the interruption of normal broadcasting. Call me paranoid, but does this mean a local or network operator will be unable to deactivate the EBS intrusion for any reason? Would this include a failure of the EBS override to release the normal broadcast transmission after some technical failure of the government’s equipment – some unforeseen “software� glitch?

    3) Will this central government authority to override our entire entertainment communication system remain restricted to TV, radio, etc., or will we move to include other forms of communication such as business radios and the Internet?

    These are just a few thoughts that come to mind. Oh, and something else – Orwell’s 1984.

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