WASHINGTON, DC — For months, broadcast engineers across the country have been counting down to November 9. That’s the date federal authorities have set for the first-ever national-level test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS). If the system works as expected, you’ll notice the test interrupting normal programming on nearly every radio and TV station in the country at 2pm on Wednesday.
Plans for a national EAS test were first announced in February, and the exact date was announced in June. Plans originally called for the test to run upwards of three and a half minutes. But this week, federal regulators announced the test has been shortened drastically, to approximately 30 seconds.
EAS is most-often activated for routine local-level testing, or for alerts of a local nature, such as severe weather warnings. But the system, which traces its roots back to systems like EBS and CONELRAD, is also intended to give the President a method to address the entire country at a moment’s notice in the event of a major emergency. The only thing is, nobody knows for sure if a national-level alert would ever work because it’s never been tried.
Because alerts are relayed from station to station, Wednesday’s test is intended to help broadcasters and regulators identify — and repair — any “broken links” in the chain.