On Wednesday, October 3, over 100 million Americans received a presidential emergency text alert around 2:18 PM ET on their cell phones.
For most, getting this alert was nothing more than another buzz coming from the phone.
Some people found it humorous, cracking jokes about how the president can now reach us through Twitter AND our smart phones! But for others, this alert came as a surprise. After all, it’s not every day that you get a text message from the president (or the Office of the President in this case).
Thankfully, the message we received was simply a test.
The truth is, the government has been putting this present alert system into place since 2012. There’s a good chance most had no idea the system existed because—thank heavens—it’s never had to be used.
As you know by reading our Survival Scouts, we believe it’s always important to stay alert in the event of an emergency. That’s how we close many of our articles with the reminder to, “Stay alert, friends.”
With the recency of this “test alert,” we thought it was a great time to dive into the history behind the Emergency Alert System (formerly known as the Emergency Broadcast System) and provide some insight into how it’s supposed to be used.
Here’s everything you need to know…
What Is the Emergency Alert System?
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)…
“The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national public warning system that enables TV and radio broadcasters, cable television systems, wireless cable systems, satellite digital audio radio service providers, direct broadcast satellite service providers and wireline video service providers to offer to the President the communications capability to address the American public during a national emergency.”
This allows specific appointed officials (such as the President of the United States) to get in touch with U.S. citizens in the event of an emergency via text alerts.
The History of the Emergency Alert System
Since our country was founded, we’ve been in need of an alert system for our citizens.
Do you remember “one if by land, and two if by sea?” It was an alert said to have been sent from the Old North Church in colonial times—a secret code, related to Paul Revere’s historic ride from Boston to Concord on the verge of the American Revolutionary War. It’s primitive by today’s standards, but the principle is the same.
Let’s fast forward.
A more modern attempt at acquiring a similar system that could be received across the country occurred during the 1950s. During this time, civil defense authorities worked with radio broadcasters, TV broadcasters, and government planners to figure out an alert system.
This system was known as the CONELRAD—CONtrol of ELectromagnetic RADiation.
In the 1970s, the Watergate scandal actually derailed the CONELRAD system due to public distrust of government surveillance. This forced FEMA to shut down the technology.
Also after World War II, a system known as the National Emergency Alarm Repeater (NEAR) was developed. NEAR allowed people to purchase a small warning buzzer for about $10 for their homes. In the event of an emergency, this buzzer would sound an alarm. Unfortunately, this project failed as the blanket warning system was too vague and didn’t really provide citizens with any protection.
During the 1960s, the more successful Emergency Broadcast System was put into place in anticipation of Soviet attacks. EBS replaced CONELRAD. Thankfully, these attacks never occurred. But if they had, an AT&T party line would have been used to send alerts about nuclear war. Radio and television stations would have also sent the alert.
Today, cell phones are the best way to reach most Americans. Most of us carry one at all times. So we have shifted once more to using our current alert system, the Emergency Alert System.
Who Gets Messages from the Emergency Alert System?
Every American who owns a cell phone should get Presidential Alerts via the Emergency Alert System. The system can also only speak to certain regions of people. In fact, the FCC states that...
“Along with its capability of providing an emergency message to the entire nation simultaneously, the EAS allows authorized state and local authorities to quickly distribute important local emergency information. A state emergency manager can use the EAS to broadcast a warning from one or more major radio stations in a particular state. EAS equipment in other radio and television stations, as well as in cable television systems in that state, can automatically monitor and rebroadcast the warning.”
Why Having an Emergency Alert System Is Important?
There are many reasons an Emergency Alert System is important. While many aren’t comfortable with the idea that the government can reach their phones at any hour of the day, the system is set up for our own safety and protection.
For example, if a nuclear attack were to occur, it wouldn’t be safe to leave your home. An alert from the Emergency Alert System could instantly inform people and warn them to take shelter inside and to not go outdoors during this type of event.
On the less catastrophic end of things, the Emergency Alert System can be used to alert people to dangerous weather events, such as hurricanes or wildfires.
As you can see, there are many reasons it’s a good thing for officials to be able to get in touch with those across the country.
What an Emergency Alert System Won’t Help You With
Emergency alerts are important. But they won’t help you much if you haven’t prepared for an emergency situation ahead of time.
For example, if a nuclear event were to occur, an alert would likely encourage you stay inside where it’s more safe. However, if you don’t have enough food stored or a water filtration system, the days and weeks where you are asked to be confined might not go well.
Of course, as a survival prepper, you know the importance of planning ahead BEFORE a disaster strikes.
It’s never a bad thing to practice checking your phone now to see that the system works, all jokes aside, before a true Presidential Alert hits your phone.
Have a great weekend. And remember, as always, stay alert and prepared, friends!
My Patriot Supply Preparedness Advisor