On October 4th 2023, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, worked with the Federal Communications Commission, or the FCC, to send out a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which would be sent out to TV, radio, cable, and satellite services, and Wireless Emergency Alert system (WEA), which would be sent to all mobile devices.

The alert that many students and faculty received was scheduled to take place at approximately 2:20pm, and involved a message being sent that read, “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System, no action is needed” alongside a “screeching alert noise” that would play unless the device was completely off, according to the CNN.

The alert only posed a minor inconvenience to those on campus, most of whom were attending the annual Prison Justice Project assembly at the time, with the worst outcome being your phone releasing a loud notification during a quiet moment in the assembly.

Regarding student’s opinions on the test, many agreed that it wasn't too much of an issue, “it wasn’t even that loud, it was pretty chill to be honest,” commented Zhaoyi Meng ’24.

Though the test might seem inconsequential to many, the information it relayed is anything but. The ability to broadcast information is critical to national security and public safety, and a failure in this simple system could cause major damage if unchecked. The way the testoperates, according to the FCC, is that public safety officials send alerts via FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) to cell service providers. Cell towers then push this received information as a text-like message to mobile devices in the surrounding area. This can be extraordinarily useful during dangerous weather events. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Weather Service works with FEMA and the FCC to maintain these systems, as NOAA’s alerts make up one of the main two constituents of the national public warning system. Though the alert system is technically opt-in for service providers, these systems are the main channels through which many receive such information. As a result, it is very important for officials to know if there are any issues in the system.

In addition, there is also a benefit to seeing the impact of these tests on those around us. The National EAS & WEA Accessibility Studies looked into how people with sensory disabilities perceived these messages, and tests like this are essential in collecting updated information on how effective EAS and WEA notifications are for the general public. The study also asked participants if they had issues understanding the message In the 2014 study, 40% had trouble understanding the WEA message, 58% found the EAS TV message inaccessible, and 65% had difficulty deciphering the EAS Radio message. This study also accounted for participants’ behaviors and reactions, with 52% of respondents taking proactive action upon receiving the EAS alert, whether it be speaking with loved ones or verifying the message. 27% took action after an WEA alert. The study resulted in a series of recommendations for the FCC and FEMA, such as providing audio and visual formats for all alerts, improving the voice quality of alerts, decreasing the usage of acronyms, jargon, and abbreviations in alert messages to make them more clear, and improving awareness of EAS and WEA systems.

National issues affect everyone, and so tests like these allow for essential information to be sent out to the masses instantaneously. Filling the gap between what is accessible and what is not is incredibly important, and national EAS and WEA tests allow us to continue improving our crucial public information systems.