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You can’t opt out of the ‘Presidential Alert’ next Thursday

The nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) will occur on Thursday, September 20, 2018 (primary date) or October 3, 2018 (secondary date). The WEA portion of the test begins at 2:18 PM EDT and the EAS portion follows at 2:20 p.m. EDT.

According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the “Presidential Alert” test will be sent out to nearly every cell phone in the nation to “assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether technological improvements are needed,”

The WEA system
The WEA system is usually used to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children, and other critical situations through alerts on cell phones. The header for the WEA trial text will read “Presidential Alert,” along with the message: “This is a test of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

With the WEA system, customers whose wireless provider participates in WEA and who own a WEA compatible wireless phone can receive geo-targeted alerts of imminent threats to safety in their area through unique tones and vibration. The national WEA test will use the same special tone and vibration.

This will be the first time the Wireless Emergency System (WEA) has ever gone through a nationwide test. The test will be sent out through IPAWS, as part of the nation’s modern alert and warning infrastructure that automatically authenticates alerts.

The EAS Test
Next week’s test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) will be the fourth time it has been tested. It is available to participants including radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and wireline video providers. This is the monthly EAS test most people are familiar with.

The EAS message will include a reference to the WEA test: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Emergency Alert System. This system was developed by broadcast and cable operators in voluntary cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and local authorities to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency an official message would have followed the tone alert you heard at the start of this message. A similar wireless emergency alert test message has been sent to all cell phones nationwide. Some cell phones will receive the message; others will not. No action is required.”

Can I opt out of the presidential alert test?
No, you cannot opt out or turn off the impending alert, as it’s mandatory for every wireless company participating in the WEA system. Now, according to Atlas Obscura, you can silence your notification settings for all kind of alerts. BUT – Not a “presidential alert.”

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed into law the Warning, Alert, Response and Network Act, which provided for the Wireless Emergency Alert’s creation. This means presidential alerts are unblockable, by law. The thing to remember about these alert systems is they are not new. The Emergency Alert System, formerly the Emergency Broadcast System, has been around for a long time.

But basically – the alert system is supposed to be used under three specified conditions:
1. Alerts issued by the President of the United States.
2. Alerts involving imminent threats to the safety of life, issued in two different categories: extreme threats and severe threats
3. AMBER Alerts
The president has unfettered access to the system, to be used in the case of national emergencies. While a presidential alert has never been used on television or radio, such a system was originally established in 1951 by President Harry Truman, mostly in anticipation of a nuclear attack as the Cold War got underway.

Written By

Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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