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Attn: Your Phone Might Start Screaming Today and That's Okay

FEMA and the FCC are doing a test of emergency alert systems on TVs, radios, and cellphones.

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Photo: Sean Gallup (Getty Images)

If you suddenly get a text warning of a Ballistic Missile Alert this afternoon, something has gone wrong, but you probably don’t need to seek shelter. Around 2:20PM EST, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are planning a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System that might be a bit startling but is nothing to worry about.

The alerts probably won’t happen at the same time for every American, but in a press release, FEMA said that they should be wrapped up within a half-hour. If everything goes correctly, the first-of-its-kind test of the Wireless Emergency Alert should only send a single text to cellphone users who’ve authorized the agency to alert them via text message opt-in. Those users should get a text that reads:

THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.

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Users who’ve opted-in for alerts in Spanish will get a message that reads:

ESTA ES UNA PRUEBA del Sistema Nacional de Alerta de Emergencia. No se necesita acción.

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Your phone should produce a “unique tone and vibration” designed to really get your attention.

FEMA says that these tests are crucial to ensure the system is working in the event that it needs to notify residents about dangerous weather, missing children, and other critical situations.

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A separate test of the Emergency Alert System will be conducted by “radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio, television providers and wireline video providers.” For that portion of today’s festivities, FEMA says users should expect the following:

The test message will be similar to the regular monthly EAS test messages with which the public is familiar. It will state: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Emergency Alert System. This system was developed by broadcast and cable operators in voluntary cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and local authorities to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency an official message would have followed the tone alert you heard at the start of this message. No action is required.”

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If you don’t receive any alerts, congratulations. For everyone else, just think of it as an alarm to remind you that the work day’s almost over.