A Test and An Alert

A Test and An Alert

Americans are part of a FEMA alert notice

Millions of Americans received a “test” alert, Oct. 3, issued by the federal government. The national test will use the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system and Emergency Alert System (EAS) to deliver alert messages to smart phones, smart devices, televisions and radios.

Ever since the test was announced, there has been speculation and confusion about the reason for the test and what to expect. Fortunately, on April 5, the National Capital Region (which includes the broader Washington, D.C. metropolitan area) conducted the largest-to-date test of the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system and the region’s test results offer insights into what you can expect for the national test.

First, why is this test occurring? FEMA implemented the WEA capability in 2012 and the technology has been used extensively by the National Weather Service and state and local government agencies for regional emergencies, such as hurricanes, however, there has never been a national test of the WEA system. This test will allow FEMA to evaluate a portion of the nation’s alerting capabilities. FEMA officials said, “Nationwide EAS-WEA testing helps FEMA and industry participants to maintain and improve alert and warning capabilities at the federal, state, local, tribal and territorial levels.”

From a local emergency manager’s perspective, “we regularly test and evaluate all our tools, so we have a solid understanding of our capabilities, and the government seems to have similar intentions for the national test.”

Second, what should people expect? Most people in the Unites States will likely receive the alert because citizens can’t opt out of Presidential Alerts. Smartphones will vibrate and a distinct audible tone will blare as a message displays on the screen. If silent mode is enabled, then the alert tone will not sound. Radios and televisions will be interrupted, however, streaming services like Netflix and gaming systems will be unaffected. 

The recent National Capital Region alert test targeted more than 5 million people, and approximately 28 percent of survey respondents reported they didn’t receive it, so it’s reasonable to assume that a significant portion of the population will not receive the national test alert.

The WEA system relies on cellular broadcast capabilities, so if you are not near a cell tower, don’t have good reception, or are on a voice call, you may not receive the alert. Not all smartphones and devices are WEA-capable so people that don’t receive the test message should check with their provider and device manufacturer to ensure they can receive WEA messages in the future.

WEA and EAS alerts have some other limitations. For example, WEA messages don’t automatically translate into different languages and cannot include images or maps. Clickable links don’t work in all cases, and there is no two-way interaction or way to track who got the message and who did not.

Ultimately, WEA and EAS are powerful ways to deliver alerts, but there are limitations. People should research their region’s alerting program so they can begin receiving emergency messages through text messages, emails, phone calls, mobile app alerts, social media, and other methods. After all, if we can’t reach you, we can’t alert you.

In the future, if you receive an emergency alert, please read it carefully and take quick and appropriate action. Emergency alerts are only sent in severe circumstances and can save your life.

About the Authors

Sulayman Brown is the assistant coordinator of the operations and outreach division lead with Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management.

Thomas Crane is a senior technical account manager with Everbridge.

Featured

  • Maximizing Your Security Budget This Year

    7 Ways You Can Secure a High-Traffic Commercial Security Gate  

    Your commercial security gate is one of your most powerful tools to keep thieves off your property. Without a security gate, your commercial perimeter security plan is all for nothing. Read Now

  • Busy South Africa Building Integrates Custom Access Control System

    Nicol Corner, based in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, South Africa, is home to a six-star fitness club, prime office space, and an award-winning rooftop restaurant. This is the first building in South Africa to have its glass façade fully incorporate fritted glazing, saving 35% on energy consumption. Nicol Corner (Pty) LTD has developed a landmark with sophisticated design and unique architecture by collaborating with industry-leading partners and specifying world-class equipment throughout the project. This includes installing a high-spec, bespoke security and access control system. Read Now

  • Only 13 Percent of Research Institutions Are Prepared for AI

    A new survey commissioned by SHI International and Dell Technologies underscores the transformative potential of artificial intelligence (AI) while exposing significant gaps in preparedness at many research institutions. Read Now

  • Survey: 70 Percent of Organizations Have Established Dedicated SaaS Security Teams

    Seventy percent of organizations have prioritized investment in SaaS security, establishing dedicated SaaS security teams, despite economic uncertainty and workforce reductions. This was a key finding in the fourth Annual SaaS Security Survey Report: 2025 CISO Plans and Priorities released today by the Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), the world’s leading organization dedicated to defining standards, certifications, and best practices to help ensure a secure cloud computing environment. Read Now

Featured Cybersecurity

Webinars

New Products

  • Luma x20

    Luma x20

    Snap One has announced its popular Luma x20 family of surveillance products now offers even greater security and privacy for home and business owners across the globe by giving them full control over integrators’ system access to view live and recorded video. According to Snap One Product Manager Derek Webb, the new “customer handoff” feature provides enhanced user control after initial installation, allowing the owners to have total privacy while also making it easy to reinstate integrator access when maintenance or assistance is required. This new feature is now available to all Luma x20 users globally. “The Luma x20 family of surveillance solutions provides excellent image and audio capture, and with the new customer handoff feature, it now offers absolute privacy for camera feeds and recordings,” Webb said. “With notifications and integrator access controlled through the powerful OvrC remote system management platform, it’s easy for integrators to give their clients full control of their footage and then to get temporary access from the client for any troubleshooting needs.” 3

  • Mobile Safe Shield

    Mobile Safe Shield

    SafeWood Designs, Inc., a manufacturer of patented bullet resistant products, is excited to announce the launch of the Mobile Safe Shield. The Mobile Safe Shield is a moveable bullet resistant shield that provides protection in the event of an assailant and supplies cover in the event of an active shooter. With a heavy-duty steel frame, quality castor wheels, and bullet resistant core, the Mobile Safe Shield is a perfect addition to any guard station, security desks, courthouses, police stations, schools, office spaces and more. The Mobile Safe Shield is incredibly customizable. Bullet resistant materials are available in UL 752 Levels 1 through 8 and include glass, white board, tack board, veneer, and plastic laminate. Flexibility in bullet resistant materials allows for the Mobile Safe Shield to blend more with current interior décor for a seamless design aesthetic. Optional custom paint colors are also available for the steel frame. 3

  • Automatic Systems V07

    Automatic Systems V07

    Automatic Systems, an industry-leading manufacturer of pedestrian and vehicle secure entrance control access systems, is pleased to announce the release of its groundbreaking V07 software. The V07 software update is designed specifically to address cybersecurity concerns and will ensure the integrity and confidentiality of Automatic Systems applications. With the new V07 software, updates will be delivered by means of an encrypted file. 3