Americans were once so familiar with the civil defense warnings that one comedian parodied them with the line, “This is a test of the emergency broadcast system. If this had been a real emergency, you’d be dead.”
Yesterday, on October 4, 2023, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in conjunction with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), conducted a national test of Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and the Emergency Alert System (EAS).
The test message was sent nationwide via WEA to cellular phones and over EAS to radio and television stations, beginning at approximately 2:20 p.m. ET.
The testing process is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the FEMA public alert and warning systems to distribute an emergency message nationwide and the operational readiness of the infrastructure for the distribution of a national message to the public.
All the cell carriers that participate in WEA received the alert Wednesday. The EAS test alert was successfully processed and made available to broadcasters.
FEMA is conducting a survey on the WEA portion of the test to help capture information about the geographic reach of the WEA Alert Message.
Survey results will help FEMA and other stakeholders, such as the FCC and public safety officials, enhance and expand the system even further.
The final determination of population reach for the system test will come from data collected by the EAS Test Reporting System. Analysis will be done by FEMA and the FCC, and results could take approximately four months.
President Harry S. Truman in 1951, established CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) as a method of emergency broadcasting to the public of the United States in the event of an enemy attack during the Cold War.
After the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles reduced the likelihood of a bomber attack, CONELRAD was replaced by the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) on August 5, 1963, which was later replaced by the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on January 1, 1997; all have been administered by the FCC.
The organized non-military effort to prepare Americans for military attack and similarly disastrous events in the United States was called civil defense until the term fell into disuse as it was replaced by emergency management or homeland security.