This is a test of the Emergency Alert System. This is only a test.
In the event of an actual emergency...
The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is an upgrade to the former CONELRAD and Emergency Broadcast System (EBS). The updated system was originally set up by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) in November of 1994, though it was not approved for official use until January 1, 1997. The system was first created to allow the President to immediately and directly address the nation through several broadcast methods in the event of a national emergency. It has its origins in the fears over a nuclear attack on American soil resulting from the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today, however, the system can be used by federal, state, and local authorities for all types of emergencies and warnings.
Some of the upgrades from the old systems include:
- Automatic Operation - The system can be set up to work even at unattended broadcasting centers.
- Redundancy - The system monitors at least two independent sources for emergency broadcasts.
- Less Intrusive - The system tests are shorter and less frequent than in the previous versions. It is assumed that because of this when people see them, they will pay attention and take them seriously.
- Multilingual - The digital nature of the system can convert emergency signals to any language.
While the service has never been used nationally, it has been used thousands of times for state and local emergencies. It is most often used in cooperation with the National Weather Service for weather emergencies including severe storms, tornados, and hurricanes, but recently it has been used to pass on AMBER alerts as well.
How does it work?
In cooperation with the related government agencies, all registered broadcast stations (with certain exclusions) must have EAS hardware installed. A central signal consisting of a set of codes is sent out on the system (usually from Washington, D.C. or a state capitol). The EAS hardware receives the digital signal and the station responds by re-transmitting the signal to all other broadcasters within the viewing/listening area. The system uses AM, FM, TV, Cable, and Satellite networks to broadcast the messages. Basically, it spreads itself from station to station based on the contents of the original signal (i.e., it can be limited to certain geographic areas).
What happens in the event of an emergency?
Many of you may remember the old Emergency Broadcast Message where it said, "If this had been an actual emergency..." and wondered what really would happen in the event of a real emergency. Well, there is actually a handbook provided to all FCC approved broadcasters that tells you. Because there are several possible scenarios, I have only included the one specifically for a national emergency:
The TV/radio station receives an Emergency Action Notification. They (not you) will hear:
This is an Emergency Action Notification requested by the White House. All broadcast stations will follow activation procedures in the EAS Operating Handbook for a national level emergency. The President of the United States or his representative will shortly deliver a message over the Emergency Alert System.
The station will discontinue normal programming and transmit the following announcement (in the primary language of the station):
We interrupt our programming; this is a national emergency. Important instructions will follow.
The station will relay the signals they receive so that other stations in the area can also broadcast the emergency messages.
They will then broadcast the following message in a loop until the official message from the President is given live:
This is an Emergency Action Notification. All broadcast stations and cable systems shall transmit this Emergency Action Notification Message. This station has interrupted its regular programming at the request of the White House to participate in the Emergency Alert System.
During this emergency, most stations will remain on the air providing news and information to the public in assigned areas. This is (station call name). We will continue to serve the (EAS Local Area name). If you are not in this Local Area, you should tune to stations providing news and information for your Local Area. You are listening to the Emergency Alert System serving the (EAS Local Area name).
Do not use your telephone. The telephone lines should be kept open for emergency use. The Emergency Alert System has been activated.
The station will then continue to monitor the alert system and transmit all signals as soon as possible in the following precedence:
- Presidential messages (must be carried live)
- Local Area messages (i.e., regional)
- State messages
- National Information Center (NIC) messages
Considering that this system has never been used on a national level, you can assume at this point that all hell has broken loose. DON'T PANIC! Wait, this is some serious shit. PANIC! We're probably at Terror Alert Level: Red. Martial law has most likely been declared. Global thermonuclear war is eminent. Start filling up buckets of water to save. Run for your lives! Get in your bomb shelters! Put up that plastic over your windows with the duct tape you have had since 9/11. Get to the grocery store and stock up on canned goods before everyone else!
Actually, you should probably just listen to the instructions. With any luck, you will get the all clear soon.
At the end of the emergency, the station will receive the Emergency Action Termination Message, after which they will announce:
This concludes operations under the Emergency Alert System. All broadcast stations may now resume normal programming operations.
The following are a list of all the events that have specific codes in the EAS.
State and Local Codes