After being postponed due to the catastrophic effects of Hurricane Florence, the United States' first national Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) test will hit devices beginning at 2:18pm EDT today. The message is a test of a new "Presidential Alert," a type of nation-wide alert that cannot be opted out of, unlike AMBER alerts or extreme weather warnings. If used, this WEA would signify a national emergency. The message that arrives today, thankfully, will merely read "Presidential Alert THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."
The alert will be accompanied by a customary loud tone — the same you might have heard in past AMBER alerts — and persistent vibration. Cell towers will broadcast the alert for approximately 30 minutes, and accompanying alerts will go out beginning at 2:20pm EDT via broadcast, cable, satellite, and wireline communications pathways. This marks the first time these systems are tested together, the result of an integration effort kicked of by former President Obama in 2015.
📳TOMORROW (Wednesday) 10/3: Expect to get a test emergency alert message on your phone at 2:18 PM EDT.
You’ll hear a loud tone & vibration. This is a nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alert system.
— FEMA (@fema) October 2, 2018
To receive the alert, users need a WEA compatible cell phone that is switched on and within range of an active cell tower owned by one of the participating WEA wireless providers. That last part is almost guaranteed for most Americans. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint all support WEA, among a list of around 100 others. When it comes to compatible devices, that's a little less clear. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), doesn't list which devices work with its Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), but you can find out for yourself by checking for emergency alert settings in your device. On stock Android 9 Pie, you can go to Settings > Apps & notifications > Advanced > Emergency alerts. Verizon says "nearly" all the handsets it sells are capable of providing WEAs.
While some may not be pleased by the idea of this disruption in their day — and others might worry about false alarms, as was the case with the WEA sent in error in Hawai'i earlier this year — FEMA has assured reporters that any real Presidential Alert will be checked by two people and sent using a secure, password-guarded device — it doesn't come straight from the president's phone. Additionally, the alert tomorrow won't even disrupt phone calls. FEMA notes that the alert will only be displayed after you finish your call (which, in the case of a real emergency, actually seems a little too polite).
But the main thing to remember here is that keeping the lines of communication open is crucial during a national crisis. Disasters like Hurricane Florence make that all too clear.
Somehow we all survived the test of the Presidential Alert. In case you missed out on the fun by virtue of a dead battery or geography, we grabbed a quick screenshot of the test itself on both Artem's phone and TV:
As you'd expect, Twitter is also abuzz in scheduled tweets and retweets of test-related wit in response to the the alert.
The president just slid into everyone’s DM’s in 5 seconds flat. This is America.
— Marques Brownlee (@MKBHD) October 3, 2018
— Andy ™ (@andy_chrivviiia) October 3, 2018
— GearUp (@GearUpTwitch) October 3, 2018
Tiffany Trump Receives First Ever Text From Father https://t.co/GRuTbsKfTF
— The Hard Times (@REALpunknews) October 3, 2018
— Joel Franco (@OfficialJoelF) October 3, 2018
— Gul Dukat (@realGulDukat) September 22, 2018