Here’s why you’ll get an emergency alert on your phone Wednesday
Whether you wanted it or not, you probably got a “presidential alert” beamed to your phone today — but some people still scrambled to try to dodge it.
What was the alert?
FEMA reported it “will conduct a nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and Emergency Alert System (EAS).” That test will assess the effectiveness of sending out “a national message and determine whether improvements are needed.”
Cellphone users had their phones go off with “a loud tone and vibration” at 2:18 p.m. Eastern. The message read “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
The Presidential Alert was originally scheduled to be sent out Sept. 20, but was postponed because FEMA was dealing with “response efforts to Hurricane Florence,” McClatchy previously reported.
How was it broadcast?
The message was sent from cell towers, and is not affected by high phone traffic, FEMA officials said, according to NJ.com. It will also be delayed until you finish if you’re on a call, according to the site.
Can you block it?
Other emergency systems, such as amber alerts or storm warnings, can be manually blocked in the settings. This one will not fall into those categories and cannot be blocked, according to FEMA. While FEMA is responsible for sending the alerts, the agency reported that President Trump “has sole responsibility for determining when the national-level EAS will be activated.”
Is this normal?
The plan for the alert has garnered some controversy from those who believe the system may be a precursor for turning phones into “government loudspeakers,” and a lawsuit has been filed attempting to block the president from sending the alerts, POLITICO reported.
A FEMA official disputed that characterization.
“The system is very well governed and rooted in law in terms of its intended use,” said Antwane Johnson, director of FEMA’s public warning system, according to the Wall Street Journal.
What if I didn’t get the message?
FEMA said it hoped to reach about 75 percent of cell phone users in the country, and things like data interference could prevent the message from coming through, according to the New York Times. It could also take as long as 30 minutes for the message to reach everyone, the paper reported.
“Everyone’s emergency alert notification went off in the office. Everyone...except mine. Does this mean I’m the first one to go when Donald Trump comes to round up is dissenters?” wrote one person on Twitter.
“What does it mean if you didn’t get the emergency text alert?” asked another.
How are people reacting?
Despite the “unblockable” nature of the alert, numerous people wrote on Twitter that they planned to try to escape the test text.
“Ugh I don’t want my phone to go off during the dumb emergency alert tomorrow. Gonna find ways to avoid it,” wrote one person.
“The only way to avoid this is to power your phone OFF. Otherwise expect the majority of cell phones to chime (even if silenced) at that time!” warned another.
“It is ok if someday I get an alert about an actual emergency but I do not want a test text from him today,” wrote one person, who warned her phone would be turned off during the test.
Many of those saying they plan to avoid the test cited their antipathy for President Donald Trump, though the test message will come from FEMA rather than Trump personally, according to The Atlantic.
“I don’t want this. How do we opt out, FEMA? I know trump isn’t big on consent but I don’t consent to this,” wrote actress Alyssa Milano.
“I don’t know about you, but I will be literally putting my phone in airplane mode from 2:15 to 3:00 this afternoon, so that I can avoid that god awful ‘emergency’ alert message from the Orange Cheeto Fascist In Chief,” wrote one person on Twitter.
“I feel as though my personal space is set to be invaded by the crazy uncle I had successfully avoided at the family reunion,” wrote Donna F. Edwards, a former congresswoman from Maryland, on Twitter.
“No ‘Emergency Alert’ can serve the intended purpose when a substantial % of the American public is actively attempting to avoid it & the remainder is destined to take its content with a grain of salt because the source is perceived as unreliable,” read another Twitter post.
And some found the alert, well, alarming.
“The emergency alert really had me thinking the apocalypse started,” wrote one person on Twitter.
“Glad to see I’m not the only one who got spooked by the emergency alert on our phones,” wrote another.