By Aneesah Akbar
A new wireless national emergency alert system was tested on Wednesday, October 3rd. Cell-phone users received the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) at 11:18 A.M. Pacific Standard Time reading: “Presidential Alert. THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No Action is needed.” Two loud, distinct tones and vibrations accompanied the message.
The unprecedented test message was sent to over 225 million people over a span of 30 minutes. It was originally scheduled for September 20, but was rescheduled to October 3 due to Hurricane Florence.
The wireless alert system is designed for the White House to be able to communicate efficiently during terrorist attacks and invasions. According to a report by The Washington Post, the President or his representatives authorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to send messages on the White House’s behalf. However, the President himself will have discretion to activate the system in the future.
While most people are familiar with receiving other WEAs through their cell phones, such as emergency storm warnings or AMBER Alerts, these “can only be sent on a regional or statewide basis, not nationally and all at once” (The Washington Post). On the national scale, FEMA already utilizes the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which gives the White House access to television and radio during emergencies, however these have never utilized the nation’s cell phones.
In order to receive the message, cell phones were required to be switched on and within range of a cell phone tower, meaning that about a quarter of the nation’s cell phones missed the message.
Some remain skeptical about the potential of the system, but there are already laws in place prohibiting the system to be abused. According to [the source at in the Time article] “the public alert and warning system shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, an act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety” (TIME).
The Presidential Alert seems to be the latest addition to President Trump’s foreign terrorism preparedness measures, which already include increased airport security when traveling internationally and more stringent immigration policies.
Many UCI students’ classes were interrupted by the test message. Jacqueline Nguyen, a second-year Public Health Science major, explained that she was in a full lecture hall during the test message. She said that although the alarms were somewhat disruptive to the lecture, “I think having a mass communication system for national emergencies will help keep people safe. I hope the test was successful.”