The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was scheduled to send a presidential alert to most cell phones in the U.S. on Thursday, but due to the agency’s continued response to Hurricane Florence, it has been delayed until October 3.
The alert will still happen at the same scheduled time, 2:18pm ET, and will be sent out to all cell phones compatible with wireless emergency alerts (WEA) and within range of an active cell tower, according to a news release from FEMA. Their wireless provider must also participate in WEA.
The purpose of WEA is “to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children, and other critical situations through alerts on cell phones,” according to FEMA. The test message going out next month will have the same tone and vibration as other WEA alerts, but with the headline “Presidential Alert” and the following text: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
This will be the first national test of its kind, according to FEMA. It’s intended to ensure that the system is running as planned, and to determine if refinements need to be made. FEMA said in a statement last week that the president will be the only person responsible for deciding when these types of alerts are sent, Reuters reports.
“If you separate this from the politics and personality of any individual president then this is a great idea and an amazing use of technology to reach everybody if they’re in harms way,” Karen North, director of the Annenberg Digital Social Media program at the University of Southern California, told NBC.
Emergency alert systems have, in the past, proven to be vulnerable to both human failures and machine error, so testing out the effectiveness and accuracy of such an alert makes sense. And as fewer people depend on traditional live media where alerts often appear, such as radio and TV broadcasts, it’s helpful to expand emergency alerts to devices that, for most people, are typically turned on and readily available—so long as the system is not pettily (and dangerously) abused.