WAYNE – Residents of Wayne and surrounding areas received an Emergency Alert Tuesday night on their cell phones. The alert was issued in error. So here’s what happened.
Radio, television and cable systems are required by the Federal Communications Commission to broadcast a system test on a monthly basis. According to the Nebraska State Patrol, the tests are conducted on the third Tuesday of each month and issued by NSP, Nebraska Public Media, and the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency on a rotating basis. On Tuesday evening, the Nebraska State Patrol was scheduled to initiate the test. The tests alternate monthly between 10:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. The tests are only supposed to activate the Emergency Alert System for broadcast media.
However, during Tuesday night’s test, the Wireless Emergency Alert system was inadvertently activated, which sent the test alert to cell phones throughout the state. The Wireless Emergency Alert is the system used to disseminate AMBER Alerts or other critical emergency information.
The regular monthly test was eventually broadcast – about 30-minutes later. The Nebraska State Patrol has issued an apology for any inconvenience or distress this error may have caused.
In today’s increasingly computerized world, the tests and alerts heard on local radio and phones or seen on TV are triggered automatically by the initiating source without human intervention at the station level. For example, tests and alerts broadcast by KTCH and KCTY completely override our normal program sources and circumvent our audio control boards. That said, we still have the ability to initiate an EAS test or alert, locally, on our own.
EMERGENCY ALERT SYSTEM HISTORY
You may have heard or seen … “This is a test of the Emergency Alert System—this is only a test…”
Its origin goes back to 1951 when President Harry Truman established CONELRAD (Control of Electromagnetic Radiation) as the first national alerting system. Under CONELRAD, radio stations were required to broadcast only on certain frequencies during an emergency alert. This prevented an enemy from attacking by using transmissions from broadcast stations as a guide for their target.
CONELRAD later became the “Emergency Broadcast System” (EBS). The EBS was designed to provide the President with a means to address the American people in the event of a national emergency. Through the EBS, the President had access to thousands of broadcast stations to send an emergency message to the public.
In 1994, to overcome some of the limitations of the older EBS system, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) replaced the EBS with the Emergency Alert System (EAS). The major difference between EBS and EAS is the method used to alert broadcast stations about an incoming message.
The EAS provides not only the President, but national, state and local authorities, with the ability to give emergency information to the general public via broadcast stations, cable and wireless cable systems. While participation in national EAS alerts is mandatory for these providers, state and local area EAS participation is voluntary.
The FCC and EAS
The FCC designed the EAS in cooperation with the National Weather Service (NWS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Each of these agencies plays an important role. The FCC provides information to broadcasters, cable system operators, and other participants in the EAS regarding the technical and operational requirements of the EAS. Additionally, the FCC ensures that state and local EAS plans conform to the FCC’s rules and regulations. The NWS provides emergency weather information to alert the public about dangerous conditions. FEMA provides direction for state and local emergency planning officials to plan and implement their roles in the EAS.
The EAS uses state-of-the-art digital technology to distribute messages. The system provides state and local officials with a method to quickly send out important local emergency information targeted to a specific area. Also, the EAS digital signal is the same signal that the National Weather Service (NWS) uses on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Radio (NWR). This allows NWR signals to be decoded by the EAS equipment at broadcast stations and cable systems. Broadcasters and cable operators can then send NWS weather warning messages almost immediately to their audiences.
EAS allows broadcast stations, cable systems, participating satellite companies, and other services to send and receive emergency information quickly and automatically, even if these facilities are unattended. EAS was designed so that if one link in the dissemination of alert information is broken, the entire system does not fail. EAS also automatically converts to any language used by the broadcast station or cable system.
Also, specially equipped consumer products, such as televisions, radios, pagers and other devices, can decode EAS messages. Consumers can program these products to “turn themselves on” for the messages they want to receive. And most cell phones can now receive EAS alerts.
Finally in 1997, EAS replaced the weekly (on-air) “only a test” broadcast notifications used by the EBS with less obtrusive weekly internal tests and monthly on-air tests. All AM, FM, and TV broadcast stations, as well as cable systems, with 10,000 or more subscribers, use these procedures.
The ultimate goal of the EAS is to disseminate emergency information as quickly as possible to the people who need it.