Updated Oct 4, 2023 - Technology

Emergency alert to ping cell phones nationwide Wednesday

Illustration of phone with siren emoji.

Illustration: Allie Carl

A test of the nation's emergency alert system is scheduled to ping cell phones across the U.S. on Wednesday and send alerts to radios and TVs.

The big picture: It's the third nationwide test of the wireless emergency alert system but only the second for all cellphones, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Federal Communications Commission.

  • The test message includes an explanation that the alert is not for an actual emergency.

Why it matters: The federal agencies said the test is to make sure "systems continue to be effective means of warning the public about emergencies, particularly those on the national level."

  • The system is used to warn about dangerous weather, missing children and other "critical situations," per the FCC.
  • The wireless emergency alerts system has been used more than 84,000 times since its 2012 launch.

Flashback: The first test of the wireless system was a "presidential alert" in October 2018.

  • The last nationwide test of wireless alerts on cell phones was in August 2021.

When is the FEMA emergency alert test?

The test starts at approximately 2:20pm ET on Oct. 4 and "cell towers will broadcast the test for approximately 30 minutes," according to the release.

  • All wireless phones should receive the message only once.

Of note: If the Oct. 4 test is postponed due to significant events like widespread severe weather, the backup test date will be Oct. 11, the release said.

Emergency alert test time by time zone

Here's when the test starts by time zone:

  • Eastern time: 2:20pm
  • Central time: 1:20pm
  • Mountain time: 12:20pm
  • Pacific time: 11:20am
  • Alaska standard time: 10:20am
  • Hawaii-Aleutian time: 8:20am

Nationwide emergency alert test message

The test message will display in either English or Spanish, depending on the language settings of the wireless handset.

  • The message that appears on the phones will read: "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."
  • The alert will be sent to phones that are "switched on, within range of an active cell tower."

FEMA alert sound

The alert is accompanied by "a unique attention signal and vibration, which is particularly helpful to people with hearing or vision-related disabilities," the FCC explains.

  • If you're on a phone call at the time of the alert test, the message and tone will be delayed until you hang up, FEMA said.
  • Even phones set to silent will get the alert unless they are off.

National alerts cannot be blocked on cell phones

Zoom in: Those who have alerts turned off for other warnings like Amber alerts will still get the FEMA notification, the FCC said.

  • That's because national alerts, which are issued by the president or the FEMA administrator, cannot be blocked.

Yes, but: To get the test message on Wednesday, your device must be on and cannot be in airplane mode.

  • Some older phones do not receive the alerts.

Emergency Alert System test on TV, radio

Wednesday's test will also be sent to radio, television broadcasts, cable systems, satellite radio and wireline video providers.

  • This test is scheduled to last approximately one minute.
  • The test message will be similar to monthly tests of the emergency alert system.

Editor's note: This story was updated with the time the alert is scheduled by time zone and that cell phones on silent will be alerted.

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