National Emergency Alert System: Where’s The Telecom?

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Today (November 9th), at 2PM EST and 11AM PST there’s a test of the National Emergency Alert System. Here’s what FEMA has to say about the test.

•It will be transmitted via television and radio stations within the U.S., including Alaska, Hawaii, the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa.
•Similar to local emergency alert system tests, an audio message will interrupt television and radio programming indicating: “This is a test.”
•When the test is over, regular programming will resume.

That sounds great, but there’s a huge gap between this and reality. Just take a look at what happened in Haiti. Once disaster struck there was no power. There was a little broadcasting left but not much. And in the days that followed it wasn’t much use. Same with other disasters. How useful is TV when the power goes out? Radio is a little better as long as the transmitters can keep working.

So what DID stay working in Haiti? Cellphones and texting. So why isn’t our government up to speed on what people really use to communicate? We already get our carriers sending us unwanted marketing texts at the drop of a hat. It really wouldn’t be very hard to make the texting system a mandatory part of the Emergency Alert System. So why isn’t it? You’ll have to ask FEMA.

While we are on the subject, we should also make a simple disaster preparedness message part of the test. Right now the message is simply that this is a test. It wouldn’t be too hard to add on in the middle a reminder to check your preparedness for disasters. The message could say, “This is a test of the Emergency Alert System. This is just a test. Treat this test as a reminder to go over your plans and disaster preparedness kit. This is a test of the Emergency Alert System. This is just a test.”

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