by Becky Kellogg
The first test of the nationwide alert system met a few hiccups on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 2 p.m.
It could have been a sarcastic swipe at the media, or even an homage, but some DIRECTV subscribers said they heard a clip of Lady Gaga’s song “Paparazzi” before the alert began.
The alert was broadcast on all television, radio and cable outlets across the nation and generally lasted 30 seconds. In most places, it began with a shrill tone followed by the deadpan announcer saying, “This is a test of the emergency broadcast system. In the event of an emergency, information would be broadcast regarding … (etc.).”
The goal of the test was for national officials to be able to broadcast important information to the entire nation in the event of a national emergency. Officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said they hoped to be able to test the decades-old system to pinpoint any problems and refine it for further use.
“The Nationwide EAS Test served the purpose for which it was intended — to identify gaps and generate a comprehensive set of data to help strengthen our ability to communicate during real emergencies,” said Senior FEMA Official Damon Penn.
“Based on preliminary data, media outlets in large portions of the country successfully received the test message, but it wasn’t received by some viewers or listeners,” said Penn. We are currently in the process of collecting and analyzing data, and will reach a conclusion when that process is complete.”
Another hiccup in the system occurred in northern Virginia where some cable subscribers said their TV sets were switched over to QVC before the alert was shown.
In other cities, viewers said they didn’t see the alert or that it lasted for almost half an hour. For the most part, the alert was delivered correctly.
FEMA told weather.com Thursday morning that the test will help them identify improvements needed in the system and refine it so that an emergency alert can be activated at a moment’s notice in a time of real national emergency.
On Twitter, there were dozens of users who asked why this nationwide alert wasn’t sent out via social media, text message or cell phones.
NarehmaM_AhmeD tweeted, “FEMA could have alerted Americans through Facebook for instance, that would have been more effective than radio’s and TV’s.”
FEMA spokesperson Rachel Racusen told weather.com earlier this week that one goal of the test was to refine the system so they could send out nationwide alerts via social media, the internet and mobile devices in the future.
“There are two goals for this test,” says Racusen. “First, is to make sure the current system is effective in delivering critical information to the American public. Second, is to identify any potential improvements needed as we move towards building a more modernized system.”