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Communications Government United States

Nationwide Test of the Emergency Broadcast System 271

Posted by timothy
from the my-tin-foil-hat-is-already-melting dept.
First time accepted submitter PattonPending writes "Mark your calendars! On November 9th national communications will be disrupted for around 3 minutes during the first nationwide test of the emergency broadcast system. From the article: 'On November 9, at 2 PM EST, FEMA will transmit the EAS code for national level emergencies to Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations in the national level of the EAS. The PEP stations will then rebroadcast the alert to the general public in their broadcast vicinity, as well as to the next level of EAS Participants monitoring them. This should continue through all levels of the system, until the national alert has been distributed throughout the entire country.'"
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Nationwide Test of the Emergency Broadcast System

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  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @08:31AM (#37830474)

    Cue inevitable future headline "Anonymous Hacks FEMA System, Broadcasts Godzilla Attack Warning Across U.S."

    • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @08:35AM (#37830528) Journal

      "Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, central time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars. The spectroscope indicates the gas to be hydrogen and moving towards the earth with enormous velocity. Professor Pierson of the Observatory at Princeton confirms Farrell's observation, and describes the phenomenon as (quote) "like a jet of blue flame shot from a gun" (unquote). We now return you to the music of Ramón Raquello, playing for you in the Meridian Room of the Park Plaza Hotel, situated in downtown New York. "

    • It could be worse. The hackers could put an email about the death of Stephen King.

    • Godzilla? Anonymous could surely broadcast something more fitting to their symbolism.

      Good evening, London. Allow me first to apologize for this interruption. I do, like many of you, appreciate the comforts of every day routine — the security of the familiar, the tranquility of repetition. I enjoy them as much as any bloke...

      and so forth.

    • by tmosley (996283)
      Hopefully it will look more like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chqi8m4CEEY [youtube.com]
  • I wonder: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tverbeek (457094) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @08:34AM (#37830502) Homepage

    Did they pick 11/9 for this on purpose?

    • Re:I wonder: (Score:4, Insightful)

      by MagicM (85041) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @08:49AM (#37830706)

      Yes and no. FTFA:

      The November 9 date is near the end of hurricane season and before the severe winter weather season begins in earnest. The 2 PM EST broadcast time will minimize disruption during rush hours, while ensuring that the test occurs during working hours across the United States.

      • by rossdee (243626)

        "The 2 PM EST broadcast time will minimize disruption during rush hours,"

        In CST and MST it will be lunchtime rush hours.. But I don't suppose FEMA give a sh!t about the middle of the country.

        "while ensuring that the test occurs during working hours across the United States."

        I work night shift you insensitive clods!

        (But actually I'd rather not be at work when theres one of those test alerts - its bad enough trying to explain a real storm to some of the confused residents.

        • by gknoy (899301)

          "The 2 PM EST broadcast time will minimize disruption during rush hours,"

          In CST and MST it will be lunchtime rush hours.. But I don't suppose FEMA give a sh!t about the middle of the country.

          Neither do natural disasters. A rush hour test of the EAS would likely be pretty useful.

  • Ladies and gentlemen, we interrupt our program of dance music to bring you a special bulletin from the Intercontinental Radio News. At twenty minutes before eight, central time, Professor Farrell of the Mount Jennings Observatory, Chicago, Illinois, reports observing several explosions of incandescent gas, occurring at regular intervals on the planet Mars. The spectroscope indicates the gas to be hydrogen and moving towards the earth with enormous velocity. Professor Pierson of the Observatory at Princeton confirms Farrell's observation, and describes the phenomenon as (quote) like a jet of blue flame shot from a gun (unquote). We now return you to the music of RamÃn Raquello, playing for you in the Meridian Room of the Park Plaza Hotel, situated in downtown New York.

  • Obligatory (Score:5, Funny)

    by Monchanger (637670) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @08:37AM (#37830554) Journal

    On November 9th national communications will be disrupted...

    A communications disruption can mean only one thing...

    • by garcia (6573)

      A communications disruption can mean only one thing...

      That for three minutes people realize they could be outside or reading a book? No, instead the nation will groan as a collective unit and curse the government.

      • by Shotgun (30919)

        As well they should, for wasting money on a useless system. What sort of catastrophy would affect the entirety of continental US that would also leave any of us alive? The only message that would make any sense would be, "Please put you head between your legs, and kiss your ass goodbye." The only way this could be used in reality is a way to further scare the sheeple into obeyance.

        • It's always supposed to be national... Since the system was established in cold war days. It hasn't really been practical to fully test ALL of it at the same time before.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        Outside reading a book... in November?

    • On November 9th national communications will be disrupted...

      A communications disruption can mean only one thing...

      Yes, Invasion.

      Seriously though, I'm so dis-connected from FEMA controlled broadcast media that I won't notice the disruption at all.

  • by DragonHawk (21256) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @08:39AM (#37830586) Homepage Journal

    "This is a test. This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency, you would have been writhing on the ground in unspeakable pain, bleeding from every orifice, while your skin peeled off in long, black, ragged strips. This was only a test." (Unknown)

    • If this had been an actual emergency, you would have been writhing on the ground in unspeakable pain, bleeding from every orifice, while your skin peeled off in long, black, ragged strips.

      How do they know that feature works? They should test that to!

    • by deniable (76198)
      I haven't lived in the US for 25 years and I can still remember the EBS tests.
  • by tverbeek (457094) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @08:41AM (#37830602) Homepage

    I have to wonder whether this system has lost its effectiveness today. In the 1960s, the combination of radio and television would reach a pretty big percentage of the population; during the day someone in any given house or office was probably watching TV or listening to the radio. But with more people listening to music on iPods and watching video on DVD/DVR - to say nothing of streaming services over IP - that's a lot more gaps in the system.

    • by Sockatume (732728) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @08:45AM (#37830652)

      Japan's government-mandated cellphone earthquake alerts are a wonderful modern solution to that issue. If there's one thing you can count on, it's that you either have a cellphone or are near many people who do.

    • I thought the same thing recently when I watched a DVR'd TV show displaying an emergency announcement about a tornado from three days ago. Fat lot of good that did me, it just interrupted my show - if the tornado was going to get me, it would have done it three days ago.

      • by Golddess (1361003)
        Interesting.. as I'd mentioned in a prior post, when I was watching a pre-recorded show on my TiVo a while back, a live EAS test message played and completely locked me out of my TiVo for the duration of the test. Wonder what the difference was between your situation and mine.
        • by bws111 (1216812)

          The difference is that on the alert he got it was probably just something that the station being recorded added. The "Important information from Weather Center 6" type scrolls or break ins. The thing you saw was an actual EAS alert, which is different.

          EAS alerts have a distinctive noise they make before the announcement. Station alerts generally just are an overlay they put over the show, with no audio at all.

          • by bws111 (1216812)

            To further clarify, EAS alerts are sent to the cable and satellite provides in addition to the TV stations. That is what enables them to take control of the DVR/Tivo.

          • by Quietust (205670)

            EAS alerts have a distinctive noise they make before the announcement.

            Specifically, that noise is a data burst which encodes most of the details of the alert (who sent it, what happened, where it happened, when it happened, etc.). Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] provides a reasonably detailed description of the signal structure and the data encoding.

        • by kimvette (919543)

          I've had those EAS alerts actually cancel recordings on a Comcast/Motorola DVR. I kicked Comcast to the curb in favor of DirecTV (better DVR, there is 1080p programming available, and almost* zero compression artifacts, and ESATA and USB are enabled so I can add 2TB to the DVR) and so far haven't experienced EAS annoyances on DirecTV, but it's been less than a month so far.

          * I say almost, because it's not noticeable unless pixel peeping

          • I don't think I've ever lost any recordings, but my Comcast/Motorola DVR's sometimes lock up completely on EAS alerts and stay that way until power cycled.

            On the plus side, even the boxes that are "off" display EAS in the channel/time indicator, so I could potentially be alerted whether watching TV or not.

    • In 2008 the FCC mandated an emergency alert system for cell phones, which would send a text message to everyone in the affected region. This is being rolled out now [nytimes.com] but isn't yet ready nation-wide.

    • FEMA and the FCC had a big display for a solution to this problem at this year's National Association of Broadcasters show in Las Vegas. The system is called IPAWS or Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. It augments traditional broadcast-based EAS infrastructure with IP-based infrastructure and mobile using the Common Alerting Protocol. The FEMA guy told me that this is an ongoing effort to integrate all these systems but that it is recognized and it will take a few years, especially on integratio
    • I guarantee text messages would reach everyone else.
      • by Thud457 (234763)
        I'm on AT&T -- which means I regularly receive " instant messages" 15-45 minutes after they are sent.
    • by Lev13than (581686)

      It's more that the 24 hour news media has made the requirement for a national broadcast system obsolete. 9/11 was as good a reason as any to use the EBS, but because the attacks were already all over the dial/internet there was no real need.

      That said, the days of TV are numbered. A more useful extension would be to integrate national/regional/cell tower-specific emergency messaging so that they can be used for everything from natural disasters to controlling riots.

      • by sjames (1099)

        Actually, 9/11 would have been a terrible time to use EBS. Emergency broadcasts are only helpful if there's something you can do to mitigate the problem if you are informed.

    • by bws111 (1216812)

      The EAS is not the whole alert system, just the part that is being tested. From the FCC announcement:

      "As such, the EAS will continue to function as one key component of a national alert and warning system that will provide alerts over multiple communications platforms, including mobile communications devices."

    • by kimvette (919543)

      And yet, if you are watching a movie on cable, recording a movie on your DVR, or even watching on demand these fucking "this is a test" broadcasts interrupt things. If it isn't real, I don't want to fucking know about it - and even if it is real, short of a tornado, alien or communist invasion, or Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station experiencing a clusterfuck of a meltdown, I don't want to hear about it until I actively check the news. Scratch that - even if Pilgrim melts down due to negligence, I don't want to

    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      But with more people listening to music on iPods and watching video on DVD/DVR - to say nothing of streaming services over IP - that's a lot more gaps in the system.

      Well, all DVRs (cable OR third party like TiVo) are mandated by the FCC to listen for an EAS broadcast and instantly switch over to the appropriate channel.

      So even if you were watching a recorded program that way, the DVR must drop out of playback and switch over to live TV. (This has caused no end of headaches for those trying to record early/l

      • by cayenne8 (626475)

        Well, all DVRs (cable OR third party like TiVo) are mandated by the FCC to listen for an EAS broadcast and instantly switch over to the appropriate channel.

        Time to switch back to MythTV?

        :)

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      This is true. I haven't watched live TV in years now, and I only listen to the radio to and from work (for traffic reports). My only indication of a national disaster would be cars careening off the road.

  • by B5_geek (638928) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @08:47AM (#37830684)

    How kind of them to notify us of when the entire warning system will be disrupted. If I wanted to stage an attack, this would be the perfect chance. All levels of emergency services will be 'confused' and not know what is real and what is fake.

    Add the frightened sheep to the mix and it is a perfect chance for an act of terror.

    • Similarly, how do you know it really worked if everyone knows the schedule? Everyone turns on their alarms at 2 whether they hear upstream or not, and says it was successful. If it was "some random minute between 2PM and 2:30PM", maybe chosen with the roll of a 20-sided die at 2PM, it would be a more realistic test. As for "real vs. fake" - "This is not a drill" sounds great in movies and TV, but you do *not* want to hear it in real life. Ever.
      • by Leebert (1694) *

        "This is not a drill" sounds great in movies and TV, but you do *not* want to hear it in real life. Ever.

        You haven't met my dentist.

    • by Lord Grey (463613)

      If I wanted to stage an attack, this would be the perfect chance.

      Indeed! Particularly when the FCC itself is saying that what the public sees and hears could vary:

      What will people hear and see during the test?

      During the test, viewers will hear a message indicating that “This is a test.” Although the National EAS Test may resemble the periodic, monthly EAS tests that most Americans are already familiar with, there will be some differences in what viewers will see and hear, which is one

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      It is the emergency broadcast system, not the brain-control codes for the emergency services. Believe it or not, the fire department is capable of operating successfully if the emergency broadcast system is sounding, not sounding, doing a test, playing Barney, or on fire, because its system of operation is entirely orthogonal

    • How kind of them to notify us of when the entire warning system will be disrupted. If I wanted to stage an attack, this would be the perfect chance. All levels of emergency services will be 'confused' and not know what is real and what is fake.

      If the entire warning system would be 'disrupted', you'd have a point. But it won't be. Only the public alarms will be 'disrupted', while those used by emergency services will remain stable. Further, there are different messages for 'testing' and 'live' activation,

    • If I wanted to stage an attack, this would be the perfect chance. All levels of emergency services will be 'confused' and not know what is real and what is fake.

      This is a claim made about what happened on 9/11 - that a drill about airplanes crashing into buildings was underway when the attacks happened. Wikipedia used to have more information about these claims but they seem to have been edited out in recent years (as opposed to being refuted, which would have been more useful if they were untrue).

  • What nation? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Erik Hensema (12898)
    This is the internet. What nation are you referring to?
    • by rwv (1636355)
      FEMA - identified in the summary - implies that the test will be conducted in the USA.
  • Typical government initiative - the nationwide system is finally ready 22 years after the end of the cold war, and 60 years after the threat was established.

    Can we please cancel this program (we have the CNN and the Internet now) and take the useless TSA with it too?

  • slightly off topic, but I remember when I was younger there would be tv 'commercials' on Saturdays which would have these on. To give a time reference, this would have been during the very early 80's. (i know...get off my lawn, yada yada yada...) and it would have been in Michigan, but I am guessing it would have been a nationwide sort of thing. But now to think of it, I haven't seen one of these in ages! I am guessing they must have changed the requirements on this or something. Does anyone remember when t
    • by vlm (69642)

      The tornado sirens and local EBS are tested Friday mornings at precisely 9:30 am.
      I'm sure no one wants to hear tornado sirens at 2am unless there is a real tornado.

      Mostly EBS is used locally to as a weapon in custody disputes. One parent wants to get the other in trouble, so if there's a traffic jam or kids soccer game runs late or whatever, the ex-spouse decides to have some fun and call in a child abduction.

      Humorously EBS is utterly useless, because the locals go into stormageddon mode whenever there's a

      • by stewbee (1019450)
        What I am thinking of isn't the once a month tornado warning. This would be a commercial, followed by some guy saying 'this is a test of the emergency broadcast system...' and then there would be a tone for about 20 seconds, with more talking about how that was only a test and if it were real, you would have been given more instruction. That commercial is the specific one that I was thinking of.
    • by deniable (76198)
      Georgia was the same but I haven't lived in the US since '85.
  • by DewDude (537374) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @09:05AM (#37830932)
    This is different than the current test procedures. those are generated locally to make sure the stations equipment works. this going to be a live test. they are actually activating the new AES system as if there was an actual emergency.

    the big difference over this new system is that it has better penetration. rather than relying on broasdcast stations alone, cable/satellite operators now have AES equipnent. when an alert is sent, it will interrupt whatever youre watching and throw your box over to a channel. so, unlike before if youre watching dvr or on demand and would miss these alerts, your viewing is interrupted. Verizon ran a test test the other morning at about 3am....dvr viewing was stopped...the box flashed AES on its display and i was shown a computer generated text screen. theyre even talking about being able to activate the system on things like hulu, netflix, xbox, but those are in the works (and may be implemented now).
  • by Tha_Big_Guy23 (603419) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @09:07AM (#37830958)
    I know, that in this environment of increasing paranoia, I'm probably not the first person to think that announcing a nationwide test of the emergency broadcast system and giving the exact date and time of the test could potentially be a bad plan. It seems to me that perhaps someone wishing to perform any sort of nationwide nefarious activities would plan to do so on a day like that. I can see it now...

    "Did you hear that there is a "

    "Oh, don't worry about it, they were just testing the emergency broadcast system today. Nothing to worry about."

    Just my $0.02 though.
    • by daid303 (843777)

      They test the civil defense siren in the Netherlands once a month, on the first Monday at 12:00. They have been doing so for years without issues, the main difference between a real problem and a test is the length. With the frequent tests you are used to the length, if they are suddenly longer you would notice something is wrong.

      Sure, you could do a gas attack at 12:00 on the first Monday, and you would win a few minutes of confusion. But the system will still work.

      • by SEWilco (27983)
        This refers to an electronic warning system in an unspecified country.

        As for sirens, to quote Wikipedia: "In the United States, sirens are a largely disorganized warnings systems."

  • I always thought the emergency broadcast system was one of the coolest things our government could provide. It involves everyone in the broadcast business working together to convey information solely to help the public.

    But then, this summer, one quarter of Burnet County burned nearby. At the same time other fires were spreading in Steiner Ranch, Cedar Park, and Pflugerville, all of which threatened or destroyed homes. And they never activated the emergency broadcast system. Sure the local TV networks h

    • I meant KLBJ AM. My mistake.

    • by bws111 (1216812)

      It must depend on your local government. Where I live, they do sometime use the alerts for severe thunderstorms.

    • Just look into local disasters; especially those not in a major city. Katrina was that states major city and they didn't get jack except from a tiny local station that was more of a hobby project of a few people which they eventually allowed to up the radio power.

      Remote controlled stations owned by corps not even in the city (or country) with nobody paying attention... If you are in a smaller area you don't even get noticed and just take feeds from the bigger place near bye-- the only thing customized is so

    • by Jeng (926980)

      It wasn't used on 9/11 either.

      Pretty sure its only use really is just to warn us to kiss our butts goodbye when nukes are incoming.

  • I'm glad I ditched satellite TV last month. Now I'll have to remember not to listen to the radio that day...

  • by SEWilco (27983) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @09:42AM (#37831340) Journal
    Another Election Day, another national emergency.
  • ...so nationally we can be ready for any zombie apocalypse! ;D

     

  • 7 Days in May? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by kurt555gs (309278)

    Activating this at 2:00PM is a show of power. At test could be conducted at 3:00 AM where it wouldn't have the fear impact.

  • cable systems need to use the out of band data channel to send the info to the cable boxes.

  • For a moment there, I was incredibly excited that electronics might be disrupted and we'd be plunged into a primitive dark age once again.

    Then I realized it was over, and nothing really happened. :( Yesterday, it'd have been greatly appreciated...

  • First? No. XM Satellite Radio was the first, way back in 2006.

  • by Punchinello (303093) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @04:43PM (#37837520)

    I would guess a good percentage of the Slashdot community worked in college radio (seems the nerdly thing to do). But for those who didn't, let me tell you about the old Emergency Broadcast System...

    The radio station DJs were taught to take the EBS equipment in the studio very seriously. Our studio was located in an actual fallout shelter... thick concrete walls and no windows... we even had the cool fallout shelter sign outside the door. If one needed to take shelter from nuclear fallout there was plenty of vinyl to keep you company but not much else. The space was tiny.

    We had to know the procedures for handling both an automatic EBS test (triggered at random times) and a manual test which we performed weekly. More importantly we had to know the procedure in the event of an actual emergency.

    The automatic test would just happen randomly in the middle of your show any time of day or night (I don't recall how frequently this happened). My normal broadcast would get hijacked by the EBS equipment (which was connected to the transmitter) and the alert system would begin broadcasting the test message, followed by the tone, followed by closing message. After this test we had to manually reset the EBS equipment by pressing a button (or power cycling the damned thing) in order to regain control of the local broadcast from the studio.

    The manual test was performed weekly by the DJs (we did it at 6AM on Monday). I'd play a cart with the opening message, "This is a test..." and then I'd have to press a button on the EBS to play the tone. It tested the system's ability to interrupt my broadcast. At the end of the tone I hit the reset (or as previously mentioned, power cycled it) and then played a second cart with the closing message "this concludes a test of the Emergency Broadcast System..."

    In both test cases I had to log the time of the test (or risk going to FCC, bang you in the ass, prison??).

    If the message turned out NOT to be a test I was to tear open the special red envelope hanging by the equipment. Sadly, I never got to do this. The envelope contained a codeword. One would compare the code transmitted to the EBS with the code in the envelope. If it was a match there were further instructions in the envelope which remain a mystery to me (although someone once told me that since we were a small station we would likely be instructed to shut down our transmitter while stations with more kilowatts would be instructed to boost their signal).

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