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FEMA’s emergency alert test rang phones two minutes early

FEMA’s emergency alert test rang phones two minutes early


The government’s test of its nationwide emergency alert hit everyone’s phones a little earlier than expected.

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A sample image showing the wireless emergency alert system message.
A FEMA sample of the alert message.
Image: FEMA

FEMA and the FCC conducted a dual test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) today. FEMA said in its announcements that the test would occur “around” 2:20PM ET. For us at The Verge, who are spread across the US, it hit at 2:18PM instead. The text attached to the message went to cellphones in either English or Spanish, depending on the phone’s language settings, though radios and TVs may have gotten the alert shortly after. (A TV in my house played the alert at 2:26PM ET.)

Unlike the national alert that went out in 2021, you couldn’t opt out of this one — it came to every active cellphone that’s capable of receiving it that was switched on and connected to a cell tower — including, in my case, three phones that were sitting in front of me. You may recall getting the Presidential Alert test in 2018 despite having turned off such alerts on your phone.

When it hit, it was accompanied by a loud tone and a message that read, “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System ... No action is required by the public.” Here’s what it looked like from my colleague Sean Hollister’s phone:

A screenshot showing the alert.
A screenshot of today’s alert.
Screenshot: Sean Hollister

FEMA says that the test was to “ensure that the systems continue to be effective means of warning the public about emergencies, particularly those on the national level.” Legislation passed in 2015 requires FEMA to test the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) at least once every three years. FEMA published a video on Monday discussing the IPAWS test:

According to a FAQ on the FEMA website, the test shouldn’t have interrupted a phone call if you were on one. The test should only be transmitted during a 30-minute time window, so if you haven’t heard it yet and don’t want your phone to start blaring, turning it off should do the trick, according to FEMA:

If a phone is off before the test alert is sent and not turned back on until after the WEA Test expires (approximately 30 minutes), the phone should not get the test message.

2:18PM ET today would have been a great time to get that customer service call you’ve been avoiding out of the way. Maybe you’d have been lucky and gotten that one hold music song that’s an absolute bop.

Update October 4th, 2023, 11:55AM ET: Updated to reflect today’s test.

Update October 4th, 2023, 2:49PM ET: Updated to reflect the test was slightly earlier than expected.