Update: FEMA has announced that due to the ongoing severe weather and flooding in North Carolina and South Carolina, the test has been rescheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 1:18 p.m.
Perhaps the only thing more disturbing than your phone screeching an alarm tone as its screen flashes the words “Presidential Alert,” would be if the phones of everyone around you were doing the exact same thing at the exact same time. That’s what is going to happen on Thursday at 1:18 p.m.
And no, you can’t opt out of it.
The alert is the first test of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System, which is jointly administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission. The system is supposed to allow the federal government to “notify the public of a hazardous situation that poses an imminent threat to the public health or safety” and “provide appropriate instructions for actions to be taken by individuals affected or potentially affected by such a situation.”
The system is designed to send an alert through “cable and satellite television, satellite and terrestrial radio, wireless communications, wireline communications, and the Internet,” and was mandated by the Warning, Alert, and Responsiveness Act. The act was passed in 2006, a decade before anyone could imagine @realDonaldTrump as a presidential Twitter account.
In theory, there are safeguards in place to keep officials — say, a president who may think a nationwide emergency alert is a good way to distract from other problems — from misusing the system. But not everyone is completely reassured.
“I’m not sure that the system would protect us from rogue announcements by a president who has exhibited the kind of behavior President Trump has over the last two years,” Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, told Vox. “I personally would not give this microphone to Donald Trump.”
Still, Redlener thinks both the system and this week’s test are good ideas from a disaster preparedness standpoint.
The test was scheduled for September, because it is National Preparedness Month.