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How America's Emergency Alert System works will fascinate you

How America's Emergency Alert System works will fascinate you
© Hunter Bliss | Dreamstime

Hopefully, you were fortunate enough to have avoided the recent natural disasters in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, respectively. 

No matter where you live, though, you could find yourself a victim of a tornado, wildfire, earthquake, powerful storm or some other act of nature. Have you given it any thought as to where you’d turn for help?

Emergency Alert System Details

One place to go for help is through the federal government. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It sends out alerts when there’s a natural disaster or crises to help keep Americans up-to-date.

The way FEMA sends out these warnings has improved over the years mainly due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

EAS Testing

To make sure the alert system continues to work, FEMA does a series of tests on a regular basis from the local to the national level. It includes television, radio and broadcast channels.

The most recent one-minute nationwide test was done on Wednesday, September 27, 2017, across radio, television, cable and direct broadcast satellite systems.

The message displayed on all platforms was the same: "This is a national test of the Emergency Alert System. This is only a test."

This is the third time the Integrated Public Alerts and Warning System (IPAWS) test has been conducted. The emergency alert system was first tested in November 2011 and again in September 2016. 

The purpose is to gauge America’s readiness on a national level and to get valuable data into how IPAWS performs under a variety of conditions.

When a disaster or crisis hits, these alerts are designed to ensure Americans are notified in a timely manner.

Why did EAS tests start?

President George W. Bush’s administration gave an executive order following Hurricane Katrina that established an office to create, manage and test a better emergency warning system.

FEMA also conducts regular EAS tests at the local, county, state, regional and territorial levels. Like at the national level, FEMA is looking for ways to improve the service.

2016 test results

While it’s too early to find out the results from this latest test, the national test in September 2016 found that 88 percent of the Emergency Alert Systems were able to receive and relay the test message.

FEMA said the test "elevated public awareness" about the program.   

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