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Nationwide EAS test shortened to thirty seconds

Public anxiety lurks as government agencies prepare for a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System on Nov. 9 that could interrupt radio and television broadcasts for thirty seconds.

When it announced the test earlier this year, FEMA originally said it could last as long as three-and-a-half minutes, but the agency acknowledged to news organizations that it had reduced the test’s duration, apparently over public concerns.

Although the three agencies participating in the test began notifying the public in June, public anxiety is creeping up as the Nov. 9 date nears. Blast email circulating on the Web from some bloggers in the last few days have questioned the government’s motives behind the test. Reportedly, some school boards have circulated email expressing concerns over what the test will entail. News reports cited one email distributed in a Washington D.C. school district that said there was “great concern” from local law enforcement and emergency management that the test would spark concern among residents.

The national EAS test, which is the first official test of a Presidential Emergency Action Notification, includes all broadcast radio and television stations, as well as most cable and satellite operators.  It will be conducted jointly by the three federal agencies that have EAS management responsibilities: Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through its Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service (NWS).  During the test, FEMA and the FCC have said that some “this is a test” messages on television screens may not appear, which might ratchet up public concerns on Nov. 9.

“The audio message will be the same for all EAS Participants; however, due to limitations in the EAS, the video test message scroll may not be the same or indicate that ‘This is a test,’” said the FCC’s Website.  “This is due to the use of a ‘live’ national  code – the same code that would be used in an actual emergency,” it said.  “In addition, the background image that appears on video screens during an alert may indicate that ‘This is a test,’ but in some instances there might not be an image at all,” it said.  “FEMA and the FCC plan to conduct outreach to organizations representing people with hearing disabilities to prepare that community for the national EAS test.”

FEMA has been urging local emergency management organizations to get the word out to the public about the test and how it will work.

“Our top priority is to make sure that all members of the public know that this test is coming up – and that it is just a test,” said FEMA on Oct. 28 on its Web blog in a message aimed at local emergency response organizations.  “For most of us, this test will look and sound very similar to the local tests of the Emergency Alert System that we often see on TV or hear on the radio,” it explained.

“But as we always say here at FEMA, we’re just part of the team – and we’re counting on all of you to help us spread the word in your communities, with your co-coworkers, neighbors, friends and loved ones,” it said.


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