Cell phones across the United States emitted a shrill at 2:18 p.m. on Oct. 3, 2018. Soon after, a notification flashed across the screens reading: “THIS IS A TEST of National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
This was the first trial of the “presidential alert” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system.
Much like a weather or Amber Alert, the “presidential alert” was created to warn United States residents about national emergencies such as terror attacks or a natural disasters. The alert test had been initially planned for last month but was prolonged due to Hurricane Florence.
Unlike other alerts, the presidential alert can not be turned off. The only way to have avoided the alert was if the phone user was engaged in a call or data transmission, the device was turned off or out of range or if the device is affiliated with a smaller cell phone provider. According to the New York Times and before the wireless test, officials said that the alert would reach about 75 percent of the roughly 225 million cell phones in the United States.
As of now, the message is designed to display 90 characters. In an article from NBC, Don Hall, government solutions director for OnSolve, an emergency notification service that works with FEMA, said there is “not much room for a personal message from the president.”
There are talks, according to Hall, that plan for the Federal Communications Commission to extend the character count to 360 by May of 2019. Hall believes that if the presidential alert is used correctly, it has the potential to save many lives.
Since the alert was first put out, there have been many mixed reactions due to the fact it is an alert put out by President Donald J. Trump. While many on social media platforms such as Twitter reacted positively or negatively, many were also just confused.
“You think it was something important, but then you realize it’s just the president,” said Sarah Popolizio ‘20.