By Alice Dubenetsky
The first ever nationwide test of the national Emergency Alert System will take place on Wednesday, November 9th at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. At that time, every radio, television, cable and satellite outlet will carry an identical message, broadcast directly from Washington D.C.
The test will be conducted by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
The EAS system was put into place in 1997, replacing the old Emergency Broadcast System. While the older system was able to alert the public to weather related emergencies, the new EAS system will enable to President of the United States to speak to the country directly in the event of a national emergency such as a terrorist attack. However, until now it has never been activated, thus the November 9 test to make sure the system is viable.
Jim Condon, Executive Director of the Vermont Association of Broadcasters, said the test will be important and informative exactly because a nationwide emergency alert has never been attempted. He is confident that local Vermont broadcasters are “up to speed” and that their participation will be successful. Not only are they testing whether each station is able to join the EAS broadcast, they are also testing to be sure that individual EAS boxes will turn off at the conclusion of the message and return to regular programming. Nationwide every broadcast outlet will be required to report back to the FCC about their results.
The stations are also “strongly encouraged” by the National Association of Broadcasters to prepare listeners in advance for the EAS by airing public service announcements furnished by the NAB. However, individual stations will make the determination whether to air the PSA’s or not.
Condon explained that local radio stations rely on a “daisy chain” system to make sure they get the signal. For instance, he said most Vermont stations monitor Vermont Public Radio, which in turn gets it’s feed directly from National Public Radio in Washington D.C. They also rely on regional “primary stations” such as WBZ in Boston for retransmission of emergency signals.
Condon said the nationwide test comes at a time when media outlets are also required to purchase and install a new, enhanced type of EAS receiver by June 30, 2012. The new system will be able to provide longer messages, which are more localized. They will also be able to cover a number of additional platforms, such as cell phones and the internet.