Emergency Alert System
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Emergency Alert System

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The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national warning system in the United States put into place on January 1, 1997 (approved by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in November 1994),[1] when it replaced the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS), which in turn replaced the CONELRAD System. The official EAS is designed to enable the President of the United States to speak to the United States within 10 minutes.[2] In addition to this requirement, the EAS is also designed to alert the public of local weather emergencies such as tornadoes and flash floods (and in some cases severe thunderstorms depending on the severity of the storm). The most recent National EAS Test was performed on October 3, 2018 at 2:20 pm EDT (11:20 am PDT)[3]. This test was the second national test of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) systems. This test took place two minutes prior to the main test, at 2:18 pm EDT (11:18 am PDT).[4] The next test date has not been scheduled.

The EAS is jointly coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The EAS regulations and standards are governed by the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau of the FCC.

Authorized organizations are able to disseminate and coordinate emergency alerts and warning messages through EAS and other public systems by means of IPAWS.[5] EAS messages are transmitted primarily via terrestrial and satellite radio and television (including broadcast and multichannel television), which are required to participate in the system.[6] Wireless Emergency Alerts are a secondary system using Cell Broadcast to relay public alerts to cellphones.

Technical concept

Messages in the EAS are composed of four parts: a digitally encoded SAME header, an attention signal, an audio announcement, and a digitally encoded end-of-message marker.

A Sage EAS ENDEC unit.

The About this sound SAME header  is the most critical part of the EAS design. It contains information about who originated the alert (the President, state or local authorities, the National Weather Service (NOAA/NWS), or the broadcaster), a short, general description of the event (tornado, flood, severe thunderstorm), the areas affected (up to 32 counties or states), the expected duration of the event (in minutes), the date and time it was issued (in UTC), and an identification of the originating station (see SAME for a complete breakdown of the header).

77 radio stations are designated as National Primary Stations in the Primary Entry Point (PEP) System to distribute presidential messages to other broadcast stations and cable systems.[7] The Emergency Action Notification is the notice to broadcasters that the President of the United States or his/her designee will deliver a message over the EAS via the PEP system.[8]

Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations

PEP stations are private or commercial radio broadcast stations that cooperatively participate with FEMA to provide emergency alert and warning information to the public before, during, and after incidents and disasters. The FEMA PEP stations also serve as the primary source of initial broadcast for a Presidential Emergency Action Notification (EAN). PEP stations are equipped with additional and backup communications equipment and power generators designed to enable them to continue broadcasting information to the public during and after an event. The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) Program Management Office (PMO) is expanding the number of participating broadcast stations across the nation to directly cover over 90 percent of the U.S. population. PEP station expansion will help ensure that under all conditions the President of the United States can alert and warn the public.

In September 2009, FEMA contracted with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to equip selected radio stations to become FEMA Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations. The project with USACE is actively bringing new stations into the FEMA PEP program. High level tasks for activating a new PEP station include: initial site assessments, environmental assessments, design specifications, construction of special facilities, and coordinating memorandums of agreement with the stations and activity coordination with the State, territorial, tribal, and local jurisdictions and the FEMA regional offices.

PEP stations provide resilience for alerts and warnings to the public. The IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) is modernizing existing PEP stations with next generation alert and warning equipment to include Common Alert Protocol (CAP) compliance equipment, and Internet Protocol enabled equipment.

Satellite communications infrastructure can be fully integrated with the legacy Emergency Alert System (EAS) and provides a reliable, redundant commercial system utilizing multiple uplinks and satellites for national level EAS distribution. The IPAWS PMO continues to complete the integration of satellite data transmission paths as a diverse path for EAS message delivery from FEMA to PEP stations. An XM Radio transmission path was completed in the first quarter of 2010, and direct satellite connectivity became available to the national PEP stations in the third quarter of 2010.

The IPAWS EAS Modernization and PEP Expansion project includes and maintains 77 operational PEP stations throughout the United States and its territories. Direct coverage of the nation's population will expand from approximately 67 percent in 2009 to over 90 percent when all 77 PEP stations become operational in 2015.[7]

Communication links

The FEMA National Radio System (FNARS) "Provides Primary Entry Point service to the Emergency Alert System", and acts as an emergency presidential link into the EAS. The FNARS net control station is located at the Mount Weather Emergency Operations Center.[9]

Once an EAN is received by an EAS participant from a PEP station (or any other participant) the message then "daisy chains'" through the network of participants. "Daisy chains" form when one station receives a message from multiple other stations and the station then forwards that message to multiple other stations. This process creates many redundant paths through which the message may flow increasing the likelihood that the message will be received by all participants and adding to the survivability of the system.

Each EAS participant is required to monitor at least two other participants.

EAS header

Because the header lacks error detection codes, it is repeated 3 times for redundancy. However, the repetition of the data can itself be considered an error detection and correction code - like any error detection or correction code, it adds redundant information to the signal in order to make errors identifiable. EAS decoders compare the received headers against one another, looking for an exact match between any two, eliminating most errors which can cause an activation to fail. The decoder then decides whether to ignore the message or to relay it on the air if the message applies to the local area served by the station (following parameters set by the broadcaster).

The SAME header bursts are followed by an About this sound attention signal  which lasts between 8 and 25 seconds, depending on the originating station. The tone is About this sound 1050 Hz  on a NOAA Weather Radio (NOAA/NWS) station, while on commercial broadcast stations, it consists of a "two tone" combination of 853 Hz and 960 Hz sine waves, the same one used by the older Emergency Broadcast System. These tones have become infamous, as they are considered to be both frightening and annoying to many viewers; indeed, the two tones were chosen because they form an interval suited to getting the audience's attention due to its unpleasantness on the human ear. The SAME header is equally known for its shrillness, which many have found to be startling. The "two tone" system is no longer required as of 1998, and is to be used only for audio alerts before EAS messages.[10][full ] Like the EBS, the attention signal is followed by a voice message describing the details of the alert.

A Gorman-Redlich rack mounted CAP-to-EAS converter which translates CAP formatted alerts into EAS headers.

The message ends with 3 bursts of the AFSK "EOM", or End of Message, which is the text NNNN, preceded each time by the binary 10101011 calibration.

The White House endorsed the integration of the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) in a presidential initiative,[11] and FEMA is in the process of testing implementation.[12][page needed]

Station requirements

The FCC requires all broadcast stations and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPD) to install and maintain FCC-certified EAS decoders and encoders at their control points or headends. These decoders continuously monitor the signals from other nearby broadcast stations for EAS messages. For reliability, at least two source stations must be monitored, one of which must be a designated local primary. Stations are to retain the latest version of the EAS handbook.

Stations are required by federal law to keep logs of all received messages. Logs may be kept by hand but are usually kept automatically by a small receipt printer in the encoder/decoder unit. Logs may also be kept electronically inside the unit as long as there is access to an external printer or method to transfer them to a personal computer.

In addition to the audio messages transmitted by radio stations, "television broadcast stations shall transmit a visual message containing the Originator, Event, Location and the valid time period of an EAS message".[13] This may be a text "crawl" or a static visual message. A text "crawl" is displayed at the top of the screen that contains all of the information encoded in the initial SAME header. A color-coded "crawl" system is often used where the color signifies the priority of the message. Some television stations transmit only a static slide containing the required information. A television station may be used for monitoring by another station and thus the audio is necessary.[10][full ]

Stations are required by federal law to relay Emergency Action Notification (EAN) messages immediately (47 CFR Part 11.54).[14] Stations traditionally have been allowed to opt out of relaying other alerts such as severe weather, and child abduction emergencies (AMBER Alerts) if they so choose.

System tests

All EAS equipment must be tested on a weekly basis. The required weekly test (RWT) consists, at a minimum, of the header and end-of-message tones. Though an RWT does not need an audio or graphic message announcing the test, many stations provide them as a courtesy to the public. In addition, television stations are not required to transmit a video message for weekly tests. RWTs are scheduled by the station on random days and times, (though quite often during late night or early afternoon hours), and are generally not relayed.[10][full ]

A Required Monthly Test (RMT) transmitted in New Jersey on April 15, 2014 as shown on a television set.

Required monthly tests (RMTs) are generally originated by the local or state primary station, a state emergency management agency, or by the National Weather Service (NWS) and are then relayed by broadcast stations and cable channels. RMTs must be performed between 8:30 a.m. and local sunset during odd numbered months, and between local sunset and 8:30 a.m. during even numbered months. Received monthly tests must be retransmitted within 60 minutes of receipt.[10][15] Additionally, an RMT should not be scheduled or conducted during an event of great importance such as a pre-announced Presidential speech, coverage of a national/local election, major local or national news coverage outside regularly scheduled newscast hours or a major national sporting event such as the Super Bowl or World Series, with other events such as the Indianapolis 500 and Olympic Games mentioned in individual EAS state plans.

An RWT is not required during a calendar week in which an RMT is scheduled. No testing has to be done during a calendar week in which all parts of the EAS (header burst, attention signal, audio message, and end of message burst) have been legitimately activated.

In July 2018, in response to the aftermath of the false missile alert in Hawaii earlier in the year (which was caused by operator error during an internal drill protocol), the FCC announced that it would take steps to promote public awareness and improve efficiency of the system, including requiring safeguards to prevent distribution of false alarms, the ability to authorize "live code" tests--which would simulate the process and response to an actual emergency, and authorizations to use the EAS tones in public service announcements that promote awareness of the system.[16][17]

National tests

On February 3, 2011, the FCC announced plans and procedures for national EAS tests, which involve all television and radio stations connected to the EAS, as well as all cable and satellite services in the United States. They are not relayed on the NOAA Weather Radio (NOAA/NWS) network as it is an initiation-only network and does not receive messages from the PEP network.[18][19] The national test would transmit and relay an EAS test message from the White House. This protocol was first used in the first national test of the EAS, conducted on November 9, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. EST.[20][21] This test was the culmination of planning, rulemaking and public service announcements. Starting in a report by the FCC in 2009 on the preparedness of the FCC for major public emergencies concerns were raised regarding "frequency and scope of EAS testing".[22] This led to two preliminary tests in the state of Alaska; one occurred during January 2010.[23]

The second national EAS Test happened on September 28, 2016 at 2:20 pm EDT (11:20 am PDT)[24] as part of National Preparedness Month.[25] Prior to the test, FEMA tested regional EAS systems from November 17, 2014, to the most recent on March 24, 2016. The purpose of these tests were to ensure results of the 2011 test (see below) would not occur again.

A third national EAS Test occurred on September 27, 2017 at 2:20 pm EDT (11:20 am PDT) until 2:50 pm EDT (11:50 am PDT) with the National Periodic Test (NPT) event code.[26]

The fourth national EAS test occurred on October 3, 2018 (delayed from September 20, 2018 due to Hurricane Florence), beginning for the first time with a Wireless Emergency Alerts presidential test message at 2:18 p.m. EDT (11:18 a.m. PDT), followed immediately by all other platforms at 2:20 p.m. EDT (11:20 a.m. PDT).[27][28][29]

National test results

Results of November 9, 2011 test
Screen announcing the nationwide test of the EAS, November 9, 2011, mainly generated by the EAS decoder at cable operator headends, listing that the test was generated within the District of Columbia rather than locally.

On November 9, 2011, after the national test was attempted,[30] stations began calling in saying that some of their receivers were not able to relay the test or simply just did not get the test at all; DirecTV users reported even hearing Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" throughout the test. This was due to DirecTV using an off-air channel to deliver the SAME header for the message, which was also playing "Paparazzi" at the time the header was broadcast.[23]

On April 12, 2013, the FCC released the results of the November 9, 2011 test.[31]

According to the FCC, 18% of stations failed to either receive or retransmit the alert.[31] The message, according to some, also lacked the alert code which would allow the President to speak. Due to a feedback loop in the PEP system, the test could be heard several times in the background, and the EOM (end of message) code was sent twice, violating EAS rules. The test was cut down to 30 seconds rather than the proposed three minutes.

Although there were several frequently reported issues, the FCC stated that the test demonstrated that the national EAS architecture is basically sound. Some of these problems included:

  • Bad audio quality[31]
    • A malfunction at the National Primary level inserted a second level of header tones into the audio portion of the message, which created a large-delay reverb effect and noisy background levels, which increased in intensity each time the EAN message was passed on. Since then, FEMA has reconfigured their equipment correctly.[31]
  • Lack of a Primary Entry Point in some areas, leaving those areas without a direct connection to FEMA[31]
    • At the time of the test, there was no established Primary Entry Point in Portland, Oregon. The Oregon EAS State Plan instructed all stations west of the Cascades (including Portland) to monitor public radio station KOPB-FM, which would receive the alert from the NPR Squawk Channel. The audio quality of the alert that KOPB-FM received via the NPR Squawk Channel was exceptionally poor, and most monitoring stations' equipment did not recognize the alert at all or only broadcast the first few seconds of the alert. The FCC has since expanded PEP coverage to West of the Cascades (including Portland).[31]
  • Use of alternatives to PEP-based EAN distribution[31]
    • The FCC found that some stations chose to use alternatives to the PEP-based daisy-chain mode of propagation, and that some of these alternatives may not be able to receive the EAN effectively in times of emergency. The FCC has advised these stations to request approval from the FCC for these alternative ways of receiving the EAN.
  • Inability of some participants to receive/transmit the EAN[31]
    • Some EAS Participants stated that, although they heard the EAN from their monitoring stations, they were not able to rebroadcast it to their audience. The FCC found that the cause of this was usually operator error, or that the Participant's equipment was programmed incorrectly.
  • Short test length[31]
    • The FCC found that some EAS equipment manufacturers designed their equipment to not rebroadcast EANs shorter than 75 seconds due to a misinterpretation of the FCC regulations. Another EAS Participant suggested that the 30 second duration of the test was insufficient to allow its engineers to manually override its equipment when automatic equipment functions failed.
  • The use of the Emergency Action Notification process (which had never been used before) and a Washington, D.C. location code was also believed to have caused confusion to viewers, as there was a lack of public awareness of how the national test would be delivered.[32]

The first-ever Nationwide EAS Test was a success in that it demonstrated that the national EAS would generally perform as designed, if activated.[31] At the same time, the test showed several areas that needed improvement.

Results of September 28, 2016 test

Results of this test were released by the FCC on April 21, 2017, remarking that it "demonstrated that the Internet-based distribution of alerts via IPAWS has modernized the EAS and greatly improved the quality, effectiveness, and accessibility of EAS alerts". However, half of the participants did not use IPAWS to receive the message, some "failed to receive or retransmit alerts due to erroneous equipment configuration, equipment readiness and upkeep issues, and confusion regarding EAS rules and technical requirements", and that participation among low-power broadcasters was low. Rather than delivering it as an EAN, the 2016 test was delivered with a new designation, "National Periodic Test" (NPT), and an explicit location code designating the entire country. These changes reduced viewer confusion and technical problems, and made the test resemble other routine tests.[32][33]

Additions and proposals

The number of event types in the national system has grown to eighty. At first, all but three of the events (civil emergency message, immediate evacuation, and emergency action notification [national emergency]) were weather-related (such as a tornado warning). Since then, several classes of non-weather emergencies have been added, including, in most states, the AMBER Alert System for child abduction emergencies. In 2016, three additional weather alert codes were authorized for use in relation to hurricane events, including Extreme Wind Warning (EWW), Storm Surge Warning (SSW) and Storm Surge Watch (SSA).

In 2004, the FCC issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPR) seeking comment on whether EAS in its present form is the most effective mechanism for warning the American public of an emergency and, if not, on how EAS can be improved, such as mandatory text messages to cellphones, regardless of subscription. As noted above, rules implemented by the FCC on July 12, 2007 provisionally endorse incorporating CAP with the SAME protocol.

EAS for consumers

The EAS is designed to be useful for the entire public, not just those with SAME-capable equipment. However, several consumer-level radios do exist, especially weather radio receivers, which are available to the public through both mail-order and retailers. Other specialty receivers for AM/FM/ACSSB (LM) are available only through mail-order, or in some places from federal, state, or local governments, especially where there is a potential hazard nearby such as a chemical factory. These radios come pre-tuned to a station in each area that has agreed to provide this service to local emergency management officials and agencies, often with a direct link back to the plant's safety system or control room for instant activation should an evacuation or other emergency arise.

The ability to narrow messages down so that only the actual area in danger is alerted is extremely helpful in preventing false warnings, which was previously a major tune-out factor. Instead of sounding for all warnings within a station's area, SAME-decoder radios now sound only for the counties for which they are programmed. When the alarm sounds, anyone with the radio knows that the danger is nearby and protective action should be taken. For this reason, the goal of the National Weather Service (NOAA/NWS) is that each home should have both a smoke detector and a SAME weather radio.

Limitations

The EAS can only be used to relay audio messages that preempt all programming; as the intent of an Emergency Action Notification is to serve as a "last-ditch effort to get a message out if the President cannot get to the media", it can easily be made redundant by the near-immediate media coverage that major weather events and terrorist attacks--such as, most prominently, the September 11 attacks in 2001--receive from television broadcasters and news channels. Following the attacks, then-FCC chairman Michael K. Powell cited "the ubiquitous media environment" as justification for not using the EAS in their immediate aftermath. Glenn Collins of The New York Times acknowledged these limitations, noting that "no president has ever used the current [EAS] system or its technical predecessors in the last 50 years, despite the Soviet missile crisis, a presidential assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing, major earthquakes and three recent high-alert terrorist warnings", and that using it would have actually hindered the availability of live coverage from media outlets.[34][35]

Incidents

Tone usage outside of alerts

  • During September 2010, the staff of KCST-FM in Florence, Oregon noticed that the station's EAS equipment would repeatedly unmute as if receiving an incoming EAS message several times a week. During each event, which was relayed from KKNU in Springfield, the same commercial advertisement for ARCO/BP gasoline could be heard, along with the words "This test has been brought to you by ARCO". Further investigation by the primary station transmitting the commercial revealed that the spot had been produced using an audio clip of an actual EAS header which had been modified to lower the header's volume and presumably prevent it from triggering false positive alert reactions in EAS equipment. The spot was distributed nationally, and after it had once been identified as the source of the false EAS equipment trips, various stations around the country reported having had similar experiences. After a widespread notification by the Society of Broadcast Engineers was issued, ARCO's ad agency withdrew the commercial from airplay.[36] McKenzie River Broadcasting, the parent company of KKNU, was later served with a Notice of Apparent Liability with a forfeiture amount of $10,000 for having played the commercial advertisement containing the header tones. This issue, once considered resolved without a fine being levied, resurfaced in 2013, holding up KKNU's license renewal application. Ultimately, no action by the FCC was taken and the license renewal was granted.
  • On June 15, 2012, WNKY, the NBC/CBS affiliate in Bowling Green, Kentucky premiered an advertisement for a local licensed sports apparel store it produced, featuring EAS tones within the ad used in a non-emergency manner and went out over the station's main NBC signal and CBS digital subchannel. On November 5, 2013, the station's owner, Max Media, through its licensee, MMK License, was assessed a $39,000 fine (listed in the FCC's statement as a "voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury") by the FCC due to the ad. WNKY's digital channels, in addition to the FCC fine, will also launch a local campaign about the EAS through their programs and the station's website, air additional emergency preparation public service announcements, and lease space on their tower to the Warren County Emergency Management agency and the City of Bowling Green for modernized warning equipment. Additionally in the same manner, the FCC proposed a $25,000 fine against the cable network TBS and its corporate parent Time Warner for an inappropriate use of EAS tones within a 2012 promotional spot for their talk show Conan which had not been put past standards and practices; the use of tones was part of a promotion involving guest Jack Black.[37][38]
  • Tones from the EAS were used in the trailer for the 2013 film Olympus Has Fallen; cable providers were fined $1.9 million by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on March 3, 2014 for misuse of EAS tones.[39] An event similar to this previously occurred in November 2013, when TBS was fined $25,000 for the aforementioned use of EAS tones in a Conan advertisement.[40]
  • On October 24, 2014, television viewers of certain stations in Atlanta, Detroit, and Austin reported seeing EAS messages and notifications.[41] The emergency alert originated at Nashville, Tennessee radio station WSIX-FM, where morning show host Bobby Bones replayed the 2011 EAS test as part of a rant about a genuine EAS test from Nashville's Fox affiliate, WZTV, locally interrupting Game 2 of the 2014 World Series on October 22. The errant test was relayed to some radio and television stations and cable systems nationwide, as Bobby Bones' program was also broadcast on other Country-formatted stations, particularly those owned by WSIX-FM's parent company, iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel Communications).[42] On May 19, 2015, iHeartMedia was fined $1 million for the incident, and was ordered to implement a three-year compliance plan and remove all EAS tones or similar-sounding noises from its audio production libraries in order to avoid any further incidents.[43]
  • From August 4 to August 6, 2016, Tegna, Inc.-owned NBC affiliate WTLV in Jacksonville, Florida aired an ad several times during NBC's primetime coverage of the 2016 Summer Olympics produced by the marketing department of the National Football League's Jacksonville Jaguars featuring out-of-sequence EAS tones over Jaguars training camp footage and a voiceover noting 'this is not a test, this is an emergency broadcast transmission...seek shelter immediately', along with the on-screen text 'the storm is coming'. The ad aired four times before station compliance authorities pulled the advertisement after the local news industry blog FTVLive criticized the station for carrying it, especially during the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season. FTVLive's piece would be noted by the FCC in their decision against WTLV rendered on May 30, 2017, when it was given a $55,000 fine for carrying the offending Jaguars ad.[44][45]

Hacking

  • On February 11, 2013, hackers broke into the EAS networks in Great Falls, Montana and Marquette, Michigan to broadcast an emergency alert that zombies have risen from their graves in several counties in Montana and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Stations KRTV in Great Falls, WBUP and WNMU-TV in Marquette broke into programming to broadcast the false alerts.[46][47] It was determined that a number of stations installed station equipment without firewall or security protection, and further neglected to change default factory logins or passwords, opting to use factory presets instead. Because of this, the FCC, FEMA, equipment manufacturers, as well as trade groups, including the Michigan Association of Broadcasters, urged broadcasters to change their passwords and to recheck their security measures.[48] Two days later, WIZM-FM in La Crosse, Wisconsin inadvertently triggered the EAS on WKBT-DT by playing a recording of the fake alert during its morning show.[49] No suspects have been identified in this hacking.
  • On September 28, 2016, NBC affiliate WKTV in Utica, New York mistakenly aired a "hazardous materials warning". The alert included a line from the Dr. Seuss book Green Eggs and Ham, "could you? would you? on a train?" The TV station posted on social media outlets that the warning was intended to be an "automated test which was not intended for public display"[50]. WKTV traced the issue back to FEMA, who sent the alert with the national code. The inclusion of the national code caused the station's EAS equipment to automatically relay the alert. It was later discovered that FEMA did not originate the alert, meaning that WKTV's EAS equipment had been hacked. No culprit has been found in the case.[51] This alert was posted 2 days prior to the Hoboken Train Crash in New Jersey.
  • On February 28, 2017, WZZY in Winchester, Indiana was also hacked, when hackers accessed the station's SAGE ENDEC EAS equipment and played the same "zombies and dead bodies" audio from the February 11, 2013 incidents (likely meaning WZZY had the same EAS equipment affecting the 2013 stations, and had failed to change the password on the equipment or secured it). The incident prompted a public response from the Randolph County Sheriff's Department clarifying that the station's "alerting equipment had been hacked" and there was no actual emergency.[52][53]

Testing errors

  • On October 19, 2008, KWVE-FM in San Clemente, California was scheduled to conduct a Required Weekly Test. However, it conducted a Required Monthly Test by mistake, causing all stations and cable systems in the immediate area to relay the test. In addition, the operator aborted the test midway through, leading the station to fail to broadcast the SAME EOM burst to end the test, causing all area outlets to broadcast KWVE-FM's programming until those stations took their equipment offline.[54] On September 15, 2009, the Federal Communications Commission fined its licensee, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, $5,000 for the botched EAS test. After the fine was levied, various state broadcast associations in the United States submitted joint letters to the FCC, protesting against the fine, saying that the FCC could have handled the matter better.[55] On November 13, 2009, the FCC rescinded its fine against KWVE-FM, but had still admonished the station for broadcasting an unauthorized RMT, as well as omitting the code to end the test.[56]
  • In late September 2017, a technical glitch in another scheduled test by KWVE caused the end-of-message tone to be excluded, causing regional participants (particularly Charter and Cox Cable systems in Orange County) to accidentally relay portions of Chuck Swindoll's Insight for Living radio program being broadcast by the station. In the audio relayed, Swindoll was heard quoting 2 Timothy 3:1 from the Bible, stating that "extremely violent times will come", which led to viewers initially speculating that it was a hack.[57][58][59]

False alarms

  • On February 1, 2005, the EAS was used to mistakenly issue an "immediate evacuation order for all of Connecticut", which contained no specific information on why it had been issued. The message was broadcast due to operator error while conducting an unannounced, but scheduled statewide test. A study conducted following the incident reported that at least 11% of residents actually saw the warning live, and that 63% of those surveyed were "a little or not at all concerned"--citing a suspicious lack of detail in the message, which a legitimate alert would include. Only 1% of those surveyed actually attempted to leave the state. Connecticut State Police did not receive any calls related to the incident.[60][61][62]
  • On June 26, 2007 at 7:35 a.m. CDT, an Emergency Action Notification was accidentally issued in the state of Illinois; a new satellite receiver for EAS was being installed at the state's EOC, but a contractor incorrectly left the receiver connected and wired to the state's system before final internal testing of the new delivery path had been completed. The alert was followed by dead air, and then audio from designated station 720 WGN in Chicago being simulcast across almost every television and radio station in the Chicago area and throughout much of Illinois. A confused Spike O'Dell, host of the station's morning show at the time, was heard on-air wondering "what that beeping was all about".[63][64]
  • On May 20, 2010, NOAA All-Hazards and CSEPP tone alert radios in the Hermiston, Oregon area, near the Umatilla Chemical Depot, were activated with an EAS alert shortly after 5 p.m. The message transmitted was for a severe thunderstorm warning, issued by the National Weather Service in Pendleton, but the transmission broadcast instead was a long period of silence, followed by a few words in Spanish. Umatilla County Emergency Management has stressed there was no emergency at the depot.[65]
  • On September 3, 2016, television viewers in Suffolk County, New York saw a notification erroneously calling for an evacuation of the entire county.[66] The message was intended to announce a voluntary evacuation order for Fire Island, a barrier beach community threatened by Tropical Storm Hermine. Instead, what showed up on television screens at 7:40 p.m. on read, "Civil Authorities have issued an Evacuation Immediate for the following New York counties: Suffolk. Effective until September 04-07:10 AM EDT. This is an emergency message from." It ended there. According to Newsday, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency said its officials are investigating why the message, sent by Suffolk County Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services (FRES), was shortened. About 10 to 15 minutes after the first message, the original warning reappeared with the new message -- "UPDATED Message -- Voluntary evacuation of Fire Island ONLY by 1 pm Saturday 9/4/16" -- tacked onto the end. Greg Miniutti, chief of communication for FRES, stated that the dispatch supervisor who sends the alert typed in the message correctly through the county's Code Red system. FEMA spokeswoman Lauren Lefebvre said the original message that appeared on television is generated automatically by the computer system. The agency is investigating why the rest of the county's message wasn't broadcast. The error generated a flood of 911 calls.[66]
  • On August 15, 2017 at approximately 12:25 a.m. local time, Guam stations KTWG and KSTO transmitted a civil danger warning for the island; Guam Homeland Security described the message, which interrupted programming on the stations, and was received on television by some viewers, as being an "unauthorized test" of the EAS. The incident's impact was strengthened, as North Korea had threatened the launch of ballistic missiles towards Guam only a few days beforehand. Numerous calls to 911 operators and the Department of Homeland Security were made following the broadcast.[67][68]
  • On January 13, 2018 at approximately 8:07 a.m. local time, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency mistakenly issued an emergency alert warning of a ballistic missile inbound threatening the region, which was claimed to be not a drill. 38 minutes later, it was announced by HI-EMA and the Honolulu Police Department that the EAS alert was a false alarm.[69] The incident came amidst heightened concern over the possibility that Hawaii could be targeted by North Korean missiles (in December 2017, Hawaii tested its missile sirens for the first time since the Cold War).[70] HI-EMA administrator Vern Miyagi stated that the incident was a "mistake made during a standard procedure at the change over of a shift".[71]
A screenshot of the false Emergency Action Notification message on an iPhone.

Unused Equipment

  • In October 2004, the FCC fined Capital Media Corporation of Glens Falls, NY $4,000 for failing to relay test messages and maintain EAS logs. The punishment came after an FCC inspection found that CMC failed to keep adequate records on the four stations owned by the company (WHAZ, WBAR-FM, WMYY, and WMNV). The inspection found that the station did not relay a single monthly or weekly test between December, 2002 and April, 2003, in addition to failing to keep any EAS logs for the stations. Capital Media claimed that the tests were not relayed due to "power outages and inclement weather conditions".[72]
  • In October 2011, the FCC fined WHPR-FM in Highland Park, Michigan $22,000 for numerous violations, one of which was not having any EAS equipment in use; an employee of the station pointed out that the station's EAS decoder was stored in a closet.[73]

In popular culture

The EAS has become a popular device in entertainment due to its nature of use in emergency situations.

  • In the 2005 film version of War of The Worlds, the test version of the EAS warning can be heard playing over the radio on repeat during a scene in which the main characters are driving through the countryside, fleeing an alien invasion of Earth. The test warning during the actual emergency in the film could be seen as a dark-humored reference to Orson Welles's 1938 "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast, in which real panic resulted from fictitious news reports of a supposed Martian invasion.
  • Black Mesa, the modernized remake of Half-Life, produced a fictional EAS message that reports on the initial incident of the game. In-game, it is played once on a radio in a hallway. The audio file is also available for listening outside the game.[74]
  • In the 2009 first-person shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, during a cutscene during the game before the next level starts features a color bar pattern displaying a fictional alert for Prince George's County, approximately 16 miles from Washington, D.C., where some parts of the game are centered.
  • In the Season 3 update of the co-op sandbox survival game, Fortnite updated the television props in game to have a color bar screen with a llama, one of the items to collect in game, featuring the SAME tones and TV static as audio.[75]
  • In a post-credits scene in the 2018 superhero film Ant-Man and the Wasp, the EAS's sine waves can be heard on a television displaying an emergency alert. The emergency in question is a cataclysm that occurs in Avengers: Infinity War, another superhero film released that year.
  • In the 2014 first-person shooter Call of Duty: Advance Warfare, during a cutscene before the next level Aftermath, an EAS tone can be heard during few seconds

See also

References

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