"Presidential Alert" hits phones, jokes hit social media

Emergency alert test going out to mobile phones nationwide

Chris Miller
October 03, 2018 - 1:57 pm

USA TODAY

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The U.S. government tested the "Presidential Alert" system starting at 1:18 p.m. CDT Wednesday. Many cell phones began simultaneously emitting warning tones at the same time in shops, restaurants, offices, homes, schools, streets, and elsewhere across the country.

Not all phones received the tone at the same time. As of this post, some phones had yet to receive the tone and accompanying message.

It was the first test of the national wireless emergency system by FEMA.  The alerts will sound as long as the device is turned on — even if it's on mute or do not disturb, and it may also appear on smart watches, government officials said.

The system test is for a high-level "presidential" alert that would be used only in a nationwide emergency. It is being completed in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission. FEMA officials said Tuesday they would share test result data on how the testing went with mobile carriers to help ensure the system works well in a true emergency.

The test also provided some fodder for social media jokesters.

Phones with mobile carriers that participate in the wireless emergency alert system, which sends out information on hazardous weather, or missing children, will get the alert. FEMA officials estimate it will reach about 75 percent of all mobile phones in the country, including phones on all of the major carriers.

The wireless alert system launched in 2012. While users can opt out of messages on missing children and natural disasters, they can't opt out of the presidential alerts, which are issued at the direction of the White House and activated by FEMA.

FEMA officials said the administration can only send such an alert for national emergencies or if the public were in peril, rules outlined in a 2006 law, and they say it can't be used for any sort of personal message from the president.
 

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