FEMA, FCC schedule first nationwide emergency alert test

Thursday - 6/9/2011, 5:12pm EDT

By Courtney Thompson
Federal News Radio

The first-ever nationwide, presidential Emergency Alert System test has been scheduled for 2 p.m. EST on Nov. 9. The EAS is used to alert the public and disseminate important information during emergencies.

According to a release from the Federal Communications Commission, "The test will assist the FCC, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Weather Service (NWS), with assessing the current system and better determining what improvements need to be made to further strengthen the Nation's EAS, particularly as broadband technologies continue to emerge."

During the national EAS alert, the public will hear the audio message: "This is a test," which will air on both radio and television. FCC guidelines mandate that radio and television broadcasters, cable operators, satellite digital audio radio service providers, direct broadcast satellite service providers and wireline video service providers receive and transmit presidential EAS messages to the public.

"There's never been a test from top to bottom where it's issued by FEMA and it goes straight down to all the different levels of EAS to the American public. So this is a way for us to glean, okay, if there were an actual emergency and the federal government needed to activate the Presidential EAS, making sure that it actually works the way it's designed to," Lisa Fowlkes, deputy chief of the public safety and homeland security bureau of the FCC, told Federal News Radio in February.

Jamie Barnett, chief of the FCC's public safety and homeland security bureau, believes that in light of recent weather disasters in the U.S. and Japan, "a reliable and effective emergency alert and warning system is key to ensuring the public's safety during times of emergency," and to ensure that the Emergency Alert System (EAS) is working properly.

Damon Penn, FEMA's assistant administrator of national continuity programs, said, "It is important to remember that this is not a pass or fail test but a chance to establish a baseline for making incremental improvements to the Emergency Alert System with ongoing and future testing."

In the future, the FCC and FEMA are already looking at ways to aid in relaying emergency information even further through the FCC's National Broadband Plan and FEMA's Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), which will be powered by broadband and the Internet.

Courtney Thompson is an intern with Federal News Radio.

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