A Digital Upgrade For The Emergency Alert System

from the this-is-just-a-test...-if-this-were-a-real-emergency... dept

I’m sure everyone in the US who watches any TV, at one point or another, has seen the color bars and heard the beeping during a “test of the emergency broadcast system…”. When I worked in radio, I remember having to run occasional “tests” of the emergency broadcast system there as well – and every time, we used to joke about what a waste it was, and how we would have no idea what to do in a real emergency. Now, a group is working on an upgrade to the Emergency Alert System (as it has been renamed) to match the twenty-first century. It’s no longer just about putting out a message across every TV and radio station. Now, they’re looking at how to contact people online via the web, email, and phone. They’re also looking to do things like having TVs that will automatically turn on in emergency situations (something that already exists in some areas). It certainly sounds like such a system could use an update, but I’m wondering if there will be a day when I try to open up my web browser and find that I need to stare at a series of colored lines while I wait through another “test” of the Emergency Alert System…

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Comments on “A Digital Upgrade For The Emergency Alert System”

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Patrick Sweeney (user link) says:

Emergency Alert - the New York 9/11 experience

none of the emergency alert systems worked on 9/11 — the only thing that stopped a massive panic was a calm, in-control mayor standing in front of a microphone and camera and telling it to us straight.

The antennas for TV and radio destroyed, the city’s emergency command center was destroyed as well.

Doug says:


Gotta love it. From the article:

An update to the system was among several proposals from an advisory committee formed by the Federal Communications Commission after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to study ways to prepare communications systems for an attack or natural disaster.

Maybe they should rethink the whole thing? The EAS was never activated during the WTC/Pentagon attacks; apparently nobody thought it was necessary. And it wasn’t until one week later that the FCC thought to temporarily suspend EAS testing lest the public become alarmed that something really serious was happening.

It’s not a technical issue, it’s a human one. There are problems with the officials’ failure to trigger EAS, and problems with the public’s failure to take EAS alerts seriously after so many tests. Sometimes with the officials’ failure to take EAS alerts and testing seriously (that’s a picture of a MARTA sign in Atlanta, showing an EAS test in progress on 9/11/01).

Personally, I think EAS is a lost cause, and throwing technology at it is a waste.

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