Poor Grades for Emergency Alert Test


It depended on where you live, and what channel you were watching or station you were listening to. But the first-ever nationwide test today of the emergency alert notification system appeared to be a failure for many TV and radio programmers.

The test was supposed to run 30 seconds. WJLA-TV in Washington was stuck on a test graphic for four full minutes. WMAL-FM in Washington was stuck in silence for nearly two minutes before the test finally ran, and when it did, listeners heard double or triple audio.  (That said, listeners report that it sounded fine on Washington’s WTOP radio.)

One of ABC’s radio affiliates, WAPI in Birmingham, Ala., tweeted this:

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

The Federal Communications Commission shared few details today, releasing this statement:

“The nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System test was administered and the FCC and FEMA are currently collecting data about the results. This initial test was the first time we have tested the reach and scope of this technology and additional improvements that should be made to the system as we move forward. Only through comprehensively testing, analyzing, and improving these technologies can we ensure an effective and reliable national emergency alert and warning system.

“We thank all of our partners who made this test possible and look forward to working with EAS participants to improve this current technology and build a robust, resilient, and fully accessible next generation alerting system that can provide timely and accurate alerts to the American people.”

Besides broadcasting local weather reports and Amber alerts, the Emergency Alert System is designed to allow the president to commandeer the airwaves and deliver an audio message to the U.S. people in a national emergency.

Read more about the Emergency Alert System.


In a blog posting, FEMA assistant administrator Damon Penn explained the spotty results.

“As we have been explaining throughout this process, this initial test was the first time we have gotten a sense of the reach and scope of this technology,” he said. “It was our opportunity to get a sense of what worked, what didn’t and additional improvements need to be made to the system as we move forward. It’s only through comprehensively testing, analyzing, and improving these technologies that we can ensure the most effective and reliable emergency alert and warning systems available at a moment’s notice in a time of real national emergency.”

“And looking ahead, this test was just the beginning of our much larger efforts to strengthen and upgrade our nation’s public alert and warning system,” he wrote.

Read the full FEMA blog entry.