Feds Send First Emergency Message Test to Cell Phones

Yolanda Curtis
October 5, 2018

After filling in the message form, two other FEMA officials are asked to sign off on the alert - a system created to prevent false alarms, like the incorrect alert of an incoming missile that roused and terrified people in Hawaii earlier this year. "No action is needed", the full text will read. The alert will also have a header that reads "Presidential Alert".

It was meant to be tested on 20 September, but this was postponed because of Hurricane Florence.

"That's the whole point of conducting these tests, so we as the government can determine where the deficiencies are so we can go back and make improvements", said Mahoning County EMA Director Dennis O'Hara. Some cell phones will receive the message; others will not.

Earlier on Wednesday, a federal judge in New York City rejected a request to block the test in a lawsuit filed last month by three New York residents. The message you likely received (unless you turned your phone off) was the first ever nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system.


The WEA alert text is a little different from conventional text.

Hundreds of millions of Americans have received a presidential alert test on their phones from Donald Trump. Weird. I wonder where that official got the idea that we were specifically anxious about a president who wakes up in the morning and fires off ill-advised messages. But FEMA officials said the administration can only send these alerts for emergencies affecting the whole country or if the public was in danger, according to Bloomberg.

"When those messages appear on mobile devices, people should take those extremely seriously", Antwane Johnson, director of the IPAWS system, told CBS News.

In its statement, FEMA said the WEA system is used to warn about risky weather, missing children, and other critical situations through cell phone alerts.


The federal government has long had a system to issue alerts over television and radio. Some say they don't like knowing they can't opt out of getting the alert.

The system was brought into being under the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act of 2015.

The Southern District of NY court docket indicates summons were issued to Trump and FEMA Director William "Brock" Long on September 26. And while Americans can choose not to receive weather and AMBER alerts, they cannot opt out of presidential ones.

No matter what you were doing or where you were, everyone got the same alert.


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