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National Test / Warning System: What just happened to my cell phone, TV, radio? What do I do now?

Every phone in America just bleeped for a test of a new emergency alert system. At least it should have.

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If you weren’t looking at the news this week you will have got an almighty shock moments ago. Maybe you were on the subway doomscrolling or catching up on the final episode of the Ashoka show when there was an interruption.

This is because a test has been sent out by the the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a nation-wide alert system. It was conducted at approximately 2:20 p.m. ET.

The purpose of the test is to maintain effective alerts across the nation in the event of an emergency. This is the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA).

Here’s what happened on your phone (WEA):

  • Your phone vibrated and emitted an audio tone, both things happening twice
  • The message that appears on their phones read: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.
  • Phones with the main menu set to Spanish displayed: “ESTA ES UNA PRUEBA del Sistema Nacional de Alerta de Emergencia.  No se necesita acción.”

The EAS portion of the test will be sent to radios and televisions, the seventh test of its kind.

“The national test is best thought of as a system-wide test,” says Elizabeth Ellcessor at the University of Virginia. “If the system works for this, it should also work for the smaller, more local, ordinary uses.”

I didn’t get a message, is my device broken?

Phones will have only gotten the alert if they were within range of an active cell tower, and in a geographic area where the wireless provider participates in WEA.

If a phone is off before the test alert is sent and not turned back on until after the test ends, around 30 minutes, the phone should not get the test message.