FEMA plans to test Emergency Alert System in D.C. area, across the country on Wednesday

November 7, 2011

Television viewers and radio listeners across the Washington area will join viewers and listeners across the United States on Wednesday for a message marking the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, authorities said.

States and local governments have used the EAS to send weather alerts and report other emergencies, but the Federal Emergency Management Agency said that “there has never been a national activation of the system.”

The idea of the test is to gauge the readiness and effectiveness of the system and see what incremental improvements may be made, FEMA said.

Having the alert issued throughout the country “can provide an accurate picture of the current state of the system” and of what improvements might make it more reliable and resilient.

This is “not a pass or fail measure,” FEMA said in a statement. Instead, the agency said, the aim is to determine “if the national-level system will work as designed should officials ever need to send a national alert.”

The test will begin at 2 p.m. in the Eastern time zone and will last about 30 seconds.

The date was chosen because it is near the end of hurricane season and before the severe winter weather season. The hour was selected so that the test would cause the least rush-hour disruption and take place during normal business hours in several time zones.

Although the national scale of the test is without precedent, the message will apparently be familiar.

The test may resemble the periodic monthly tests that have become recognizable, but there may be some differences in the video test message scroll, FEMA said.

The agency said listeners will hear a message indicating that “this is a test.”

In a message circulated Monday by the D.C. government alerting residents to the event, the following advice was offered: “On November 9 at 2 p.m., please remember, don’t stress, it’s only a test.”

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