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October 12, 2011

November 9 is National U.S. Emergency Alert System (EAS) Test Day - Are We Ready, Get Set, Are We Ready?

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

Thanks to a blog posting by Mark J. Fletcher, ENP at Avaya (News - Alert), I was made aware that November 9 at 2:00 PM EST, there will be a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS).  Mark had fun noting that October 30 will be the 73rd anniversary of the infamous Orson Wells radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, that caused a near panic when people mistakenly thought Martians had invaded earth and chose tiny Grover’s Mill, NJ to launch their attack.  I actually like the scene in the 1966 hit comedy, The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming.

While a source for a good chuckle, the EAS is no laughing matter. It was established in 1963 by the FCC (News - Alert) to enable the President to communicate with the nation via all radio and television outlets in the event of a national emergency by preempting all on-air programming. Fortunately, the first system was never activated. It was updated in 1998 to include not just all forms of over-the-air broadcasters but also cable TV and satellite channels, and was modernized so that messages could be sent locally and regionally as well as nationally.

Obviously, technology has changed and with things like Amber Alerts, weather alerts, E-911 broadcasts on the air and via telephone and text messaging, alerting has been transformed. Indeed, we are all familiar with the beeps and the scrolls when danger lurks. However, as Fletcher points out, the system has never been tested nationally. November 9 at 2:00 PM is when Department of Homeland Security, through its Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the National Oceanic (News - Alert) and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS), will jointly rectify this situation.

He then goes on to highlight how this all works and what you should do. In short, FEMA will get things rolling and the signal then cascades down to every locality in the U.S. to validate system reliability and reach. I really liked Fletcher’s “What you should 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."

This is no April Fool’s day come early. EAS is a critical national resource, and given all of the natural disasters we have experienced in the past 12 months, and the risks posed by terrorist attacks of the physical and virtual nature, ensuring the system works is vital. That said, the alternative as to what to do is follow the advice of Alan Arkin in the video, “Emergency, everyone to get from street!”

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 Rich Steeves
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