National Emergency Alert Test: Total Failure?

Nov 9, 2011 3:45pm

Today, at 2 p.m. ET the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission held its first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System.

While many viewers and listeners experienced the test without a hitch, as soon as 2 p.m. ET hit there were reports of problems in cities across the country. Some people never saw an alert, others said the audio was distorted and there were even claims that Lady Gaga’s song “Paparazzi” was playing instead of the correct audio.

On KABC-TV in Los Angeles, a screen flashed with the EAS graphic for several minutes, but there was no audio or information given. Shortly after the EAS alert failed, KABC ran the alert in full with the audio.

The alert was supposed to run for about 30 seconds. However, for many stations it lasted much longer.

In Washington, D.C., WJLA-TV was stuck on the EAS slate for four minutes and WMAL-FM had dead air for nearly two minutes before the test finally ran. Once the test started, the audio was garbled.

WAPI in Birmingham, Ala., tweeted that the entire area had problems with the alert.

“Did not air on any station in our cluster, or any TV station in the market. Callers with DirecTV report seeing Lady Gaga,” the station wrote.

On the television feeds at ABC News’ headquarters in New York City, CNN ran a preview graphic saying, “Soon: Emergency Test Alert,” but the actual test never ran. Both ESPN and Fox News teased that the test was coming up, but it never happened. On MTV, it was afternoon programming as usual.

Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told ABC News the only way to improve the system is to test it.

“I am concerned that we are probably seeing more failures than what we thought. But we didn’t know what we didn’t know. If you don’t test you can’t fix,” said Fugate. “We can’t afford to have this happen for an actual event. … I’ll take the criticisms. I know people weren’t happy. I apologize for the disruptions that people went through. But we need to test things to find out what works and what doesn’t work.”

ABC News’ Sarah Netter, Steven Portnoy and Alex Stone contributed to this report.

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