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October 31, 2011

Nationwide Emergency Alert System Test: Everything You Need to Know

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

It may be Halloween, but this is no trick. As pointed out in an article earlier this month, on Nov. 9 at 2 p.m. EST, the U.S. will undergo the first test of the Nationwide Emergency Alert System (EAS). Coordinated by the Department of Homeland Security, through its Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC (News - Alert)), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS), the test will last roughly three-and-a-half minutes. 

The public will hear a message indicating that “This is a test.” The audio message will be the same for radio, television and cable.What is EAS?

The national-level EAS is a public alert and warning system that enables the United States president to address the American public during extreme emergencies. Similar to local EAS tests that are conducted frequently, the nationwide test will involve broadcast radio and television stations, cable television, satellite radio and television services and wire-line providers across all states and territories.

During the past two years and as part of ongoing national preparedness planning efforts, FEMA; the FCC and other federal partners; state, local tribal and territorial governments; EAS participants and others in the EAS community have been working toward making the test a reality.   

The IPAWs (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System) program of which EAS is a part was established under Executive Order 13047 issued June 26, 2006 and states: "It is the policy of the United States to have an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible, and comprehensive system to alert and warn the American people....and to ensure under all conditions the President can communicate with the American people."

While this is the first nationwide test of EAS, it is not a pass/fail issue. It is designed to give everyone involved an understanding of how well the system does or does not work and where it needs to be improved -- coverage gaps, time delays, problems with various types of media, etc.

Reality is that while everything seems to be in place for a successful test, at the Oct. 27 open meeting of the FCC, the Commission was briefed about system readiness. Unfortunately, it was right after the controversial NPR (News - Alert) vote on modernizing the Universal Service Fund and Intercarrier Compensation system so it got little attention despite its importance to national security.

FAQs: What You Need to Know

There are lots of questions about what this is, why now and what the populace should be aware of. Hence, as our own public service, below are a series of links that can answer these and many more questions:

It may not be pass/fail but given the time and effort that has gone into this, you can’t help but root for it being a success. Indeed, given that we are 10 years out from 9/11 and are still having interesting challenges regarding communications coordination of first responders, having the government demonstrate that it is possible, hopefully without a flaw, for our leaders to communicate with all of us in real-time would certainly be reassuring.

Peter Bernstein is a technology industry veteran, having worked in multiple capacities with several of the industry's biggest brands, including Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, Telcordia, HP, Siemens, Nortel (News - Alert), France Telecom, and others, and having served on the Advisory Boards of 15 technology startups. To read more of Peter's work, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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