By Claire Walla
Next Wednesday, November 9 at precisely 2 p.m. don’t be alarmed: your television and your radio will lose programming for approximately three minutes. The same will be true of every single television and radio across the country. For the first time ever, the national Emergency Alert System (EAS) will test its full scope by broadcasting simultaneously from New York to Hawaii that infamous cacophony of monotone beeps and text that reads: “Emergency Alert Notification has been issued.”
“A new era in alerting will commence,” wrote Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau Chief James A. Barnett, Jr. in a statement published on the website of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In the 15 years since the EAS has been in existence, it has issued emergency tests multiple times throughout the course of a single year. However, this is the first time the signal will be tested nationwide.
“This test is vital to ensuring that the EAS, the primary alerting system available to the American public, works as designed,” the statement continued.
Emailed messages circulated throughout Southampton Town have indicated local police and management circles are concerned that this test might induce a level of anxiety for some residents. While audio messages peppered throughout the three-minute broadcast will clearly state “this is a test,” the written text will not necessarily indicate the same.
However, local officials seem calm.
“I’ve made dispatch aware of it, in case someone calls in,” said Sag Harbor Police Chief Tom Fabiano. “It’s just the usual test, except it’s happening across the country. Most people probably won’t even notice it.”
And Lieutenant Robert P. Iberger of the Southampton Town Police wrote in an email response: “Folks have been routinely listening to the EBS [Emergency Broadcast System] since as long as I can remember, and now the EAS.”
So as long as the nation refrains from re-broadcasting Orson Welle’s radio drama “War of the Worlds,” Lt. Iberger indicated, “We should be ok.”
The EAS is typically used to spread warning signals throughout regions of the country affected by the onslaught of severe weather, for example. Wednesday’s test is important to ensure that the system would work should anything more devastating affect the nation as a whole.
“If public safety officials need to send an alert or warning to a large region of the United States — in the case of a major earthquake and tsunami on the West Coast, for example — or even to the entire country, we need to know the system will work as intended,” Barnett said in his statement. “Only a top-down, simultaneous test of all components of the EAS can tell us this.”
“Early warnings save lives,” the text continued. “This was demonstrated recently and dramatically during the major earthquake and tsunami that devastated Eastern Japan. Except for Japan’s early warning systems, loss of life would have been much higher.”