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FEMA explains why not everyone got the emergency 'Presidential Alert' test message

Posted at 6:35 PM, Oct 03, 2018

At 2:18 p.m. Wednesday, FEMA performed a national test of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, but apparently, not everyone in the country received the alert, including several News 5 staffers.

The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) test was originally set up for Thursday, Sept. 20, but officials had to postpone the test in the wake of relief efforts after Hurricane Florence.

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The test was sent to cell phones that are connected to wireless providers participating in the test. The text of the WEA message had a header that read "Presidential Alert" and text that read:

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

This test was performed alongside a test of FEMA’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) which warns U.S. residents though broadcast, cable, satellite and wireless providers.

A FEMA spokesperson confirmed that the national WEA test messages were “successfully originated and disseminated through FEMA’s IPAWS to the wireless provider gateways and EAS message servers. “

Only WEA-compatible cell phones that were switched on and within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA, were capable of receiving the message, FEMA said. In addition, if the user was on a call, or with an active data session on their phone, they may not have received the message.

The FEMA spokesperson invited the public to send comments on the test to FEMA-National-Test@fema.dhs.gov. Valuable information on the effectiveness of a national WEA capability using the Presidential alert category includes:

  • Whether your mobile device displayed one, more or no WEA test messages;
  • The make, model and operating system version of your mobile device;
  • Your wireless service provider;
  • Whether the device was turned on and in the same location for at least 30 minutes after the start of the test (2:18 p.m. ET);
  • The location of the device (as precise as possible), including the device’s environment (e.g. indoors or outdoors, rural or urban, mobile or stationary);
  • Whether you are normally able to make calls, receive texts, or use apps at that location;
  • Whether the mobile device was in use at the time of the alert (for a call or a data session); and
  • Whether anyone else at your location received the WEA test alert message.

Additional results from the national test message will be collected over the next month, reported later and compared to previous test results, the spokesperson said.

“FEMA is committed to continuously improving the national alert and warning systems and supporting local authorities in getting effective and timely warning to people,” the spokesperson said.