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Communications Government United States

FEMA, FCC Hope To Forestall Panic Over National Emergency Alert 210

Ars Technica has a piece on the "first-ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS)," slated for this Wednesday at 2 p.m. EST. An excerpt: "This national system will look and sound much like the current (and local) emergency warnings often seen on TV or heard on radio, but the scope is larger and it can be put under the direct control of the President. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the National Weather Service (NWS) will all coordinate the test, but it's FEMA that actually transmits the alert code. Concerned that such a test might alarm people, the agencies are going to extraordinary lengths to provide a heads-up. I first heard about the test in an e-mail newsletter from my city government, which told residents last week, 'Do not be alarmed when an emergency message will take over the airways... this is only a test.' The test will display a warning message on TV screens, though as my city helpfully noted, 'Due to some technical limitations, a visual message indicating that "this is a test" may not pop up on every TV channel, especially where people use cable to receive their television stations.'"
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FEMA, FCC Hope To Forestall Panic Over National Emergency Alert

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  • Re:media choice (Score:5, Interesting)

    by grumling ( 94709 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @09:35AM (#37972240) Homepage

    In a real emergency, you'll likely get a reverse 911 call if there's time.

    However, as part of an emergency kit you should have some sort of battery powered mass communications device on hand. The EAS isn't just that 10 second alert. If an event is triggered there are designated "tune-to" channels on cable systems and radio bands that can be used to get information out about things like shelters and storm tracks.

    If they are actually used or not is another matter entirely.

  • It's a Hoax (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @09:57AM (#37972384) Homepage Journal

    On September 11, 2001, the Emergency Alert System [wikipedia.org] (that replaced the Emergency Broadcast System in 1998) did not alert anything. NYC and DC were under multiple attack by planes that immediately crippled the country, surging panic throughout the nation and the world, and driving the USA down the path of ruinous war. But there were no announcements, no sirens, no alerts. Emergency, but no alerts. Precisely the kind of emergency the system was sold to the public to address. After decades, finally needed, useless.

    The official explanation is so much media coverage that it wasn't needed [wikipedia.org]. As if any event requiring the system to work is going to go uncovered by the commercial media. That means the policy is for the system never to actually be used.

    All those years of "testing" the system, all the money spent, all the alternate preparations ignored in favor of that one - all a total waste.

    The weirdest thing is that it took years before I even heard someone mention that it didn't work. A forgettable comedian in about 2004-2005 had about 45 seconds about it

    Now they'll spend a load of money on something else. It might even work. But since nobody even noticed, there'll be no reason for this new one to work. Except for those annoying tests that interrupt us. And leave us expecting we've built something necessary in an emergency, when we've just wasted more money on military contractors who delivered nothing.

  • Re:the real coup (Score:4, Interesting)

    by surgen ( 1145449 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @10:00AM (#37972420)

    The real story here is that Fed.Gov can take over control of any media outlet without the consent of the media outlet.

    No. That is not the story; those are paranoid delusions. Each broadcast station operates their EAS hardware. It can be overridden in many ways, from changing the control setting from "automatically forward messages" to "wait for my cue before forwarding" all the way to removing the electric relay that allows the encoder to inject between the program signal and transmitter.

    If we're ever in enough trouble where EAS is used to "take over a media outlet", there will be enough problems going on that no broadcaster will give two shits about the FCC ramifications of not forwarding EAS messages (which are currently pretty weak anyway and not enforced anyway).

  • Re:It's a Hoax (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Monday November 07, 2011 @02:10PM (#37975660) Homepage Journal

    No, it was originally created for a nuclear war. But that was 50 years ago. The system has been substantially reinvented at least 3 times since then, of which the current testing is part of the latest change. The system currently warns of all kinds of emergencies, most commonly weather and other natural disasters.

    The government knew the attacks were happening. The government had the info within an hour after the initial attacks that all planes were grounded, and that there were only the two targeted attacks. The government had spent all kinds of time and money modeling attacks including ones like that one (despite the CYA BS from Rice and other Bushers about "nobody could have anticipated"), including intel like that made into the August 6, 2001 PDB that anticipated this attack as likely coming soon.

    Meanwhile news orgs were saying all kinds of stuff about the attacks immediately, much of which was wrong. The government should have used the EAS to announce the known facts, including the basic government response, to cut off such misinfo and give the public something to indicate our government was working to protect us, despite letting the attack occur. That is what the EAS is for.

    Of course, this is the Bush/Cheney government that let New Orleans drown just a few years later. Their job was to discredit the government by spending its time and money on their cronies instead of the public. The EAS failure fits right in.

Thus spake the master programmer: "When a program is being tested, it is too late to make design changes." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"