UPDATE: This Is Only A Test: National Emergency Alert System Tested Today

Nov 9, 2011, 9:22 PM, Posted by


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will conduct the first-ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System at 2 p.m. ET today. The test will be similar to the decades-old high-pitched squeal familiar to many, will last for 30 seconds and will be broadcast over radio and television stations, cable television, satellite radio and via video service providers across the United States, including the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. It will not be broadcast over cell phones, smart devices or the Internet.

According to FEMA, the nationwide test is being conducted because although the Emergency Alert System is tested regularly at the local level, there has never been a nationwide test of the system. According to a FEMA statement: “We need to know that the system will work as intended should public safety officials ever need to send an alert or warning to a large region of the United States. Only a complete test of the Emergency Alert System can help us identify any changes and improvements needed to modernize this system and make it fully accessible.”

Just before the alarm sounds, the public will hear, “this is a test.” Text wording on screens may vary.

According to FEMA, the date and time were chosen to minimize any potential disruption and confusion. November 9 is near the end of hurricane season and before the severe winter weather season usually begins—meaning fewer people should think an actual emergency is occurring. And the 2 p.m. ET time minimizes disruption during rush hours and still has the test occurring during working hours in time zones throughout the U.S.

FEMA is planning to expand the traditional EAS to include more modern technologies, including the internet and smart phones. Read more about the history of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System.


Was today’s national test of the emergency alert system a success? We won’t know until Christmas Eve.

In a blog post this afternoon, Damon Penn, Assistant Administrator, National Continuity Programs, says the agency will be spending the next 45 days [through December 24] gathering test results and feedback from test participants.

But anyone who heard or saw signs of the test—or, importantly, who didn’t—can write in anytime. FEMA wants to hear suggestions from stakeholders on how the test worked and how to improve the system. Write to FEMA at ipaws@dhs.gov.

You may want to send some song suggestions. The New York Times reported this afternoon that some people heard the Lady Gaga song “Paparazzi” in place of the expected high-pitched tone.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.