''This is a test of the Emergency Alert System. The message you are hearing is part of a live code test of the national Emergency Alert System capabilities . . .''
That is the message you will hear if you're listening to your radio or watching television at 2 p.m. today. What you'll be hearing is the first national level test of the Emergency Alert System or EAS for short.
You may be familiar with similar messages and tests that are done on the local level, but this is the first time the system will be tested across the country, involving radio and television stations across the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. The test will still look and sound similar to these local tests and will last approximately 30 seconds.
And don't worry, once the test is over, your regularly scheduled programming will resume.
What is the EAS?
The EAS is a national alert and warning system established to enable the President of the United States to address the public during emergencies. The National Weather Service, governors and state and local emergency authorities also use parts of the system to issue more localized emergency alerts.
Why are we doing this test?
In our area, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes and winter storms are primary concerns and why you often hear federal, state and local officials talking about the importance of personal preparedness (anyone can visit www.ready.gov to learn more).
Just like we encourage the public to be prepared, we are constantly working with all of our federal, state, local and tribal partners, the private sector and the faith-based and non-profit communities to plan and prepare for emergencies, and this test is just the latest example of those efforts.
The EAS system has been in existence since 1994, and its precursor, the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS), began in 1963 and there has never been an end-to-end, nationwide test of the system - we thought it was about time we tested the system.
The test is a team effort and is being conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in partnership with radio and TV broadcasters throughout the country as part of our ongoing efforts to strengthen the nation's resilience against all hazards.
What will we learn from the test?
Going into this test, we already know a few critical things. The current system uses a technology that pre-dates the rapid expansion of cable and the growth of fiber-optic broadcasting. This means if you are watching a cable broadcast the day of the test, you will be able to hear the message, but the screen may fade to black.
Our federal partners, EAS participants and the private sector are aggressively working to address these concerns for the future, but in order for the EAS community to develop comprehensive solutions, we need to test the system.
What does the public need to know?
Our two goals heading into this test are to conduct a test that helps us identify improvements that can strengthen the Emergency Alert System, and to ensure it causes as little disruption to the public as possible. To get there, we need to do everything we can to spread the word to all members of our communities that the test is happening - and make sure they know what to expect.
So help us by sharing this simple message with your friends, neighbors, co-workers and families: Remember today at 2 p.m., it's only a test.
Velasquez is an administrator for FEMA, Region V. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.