Today electronic devices nationwide, including cellphones, TVs and radios, blared out the jolting warning sounds of an emergency alert accompanied by a message.
But don’t be alarmed, it was only a test. We repeat: It was only a test.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with the Federal Communications Commission, ran the test to make sure the Wireless Emergency Alerts system (WEA) for cellphones and the Emergency Alert System (EAS) for radio and television are in proper working order in preparation for an actual emergency, like a natural disaster, an act of terrorism or other threats to public safety, especially nationwide.
The test has also sparked conspiracy theories online, which have been debunked, according to the Associated Press.
The Associated Press: Conspiracy theories about FEMA’s Oct. 4 emergency alert test spread online
Here’s what to know about the test.
When the test alert happened
Today, Oct. 4, at approximately 2:18 p.m. ET — two minutes earlier than expected — the alert happened simultaneously in each time zone across the U.S.
What the national test looked like
The national test displayed the following message on mobile phones: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. The purpose is to maintain and improve alert and warning capabilities at the federal, state, local, tribal and territorial levels and to evaluate the nation’s public alert and warning capabilities. No action is required by the public.”
The test also included tones and vibrations to get people’s attention.
On TV and radio, the announcement said: “This is a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, covering the United States from 14:20 to 14:50 hours ET. This is only a test. No action is required by the public.”
How to receive Wireless Emergency Alerts
There is no charge to receive these national alert tests. In order to get them, your wireless phone has to be WEA-compatible, switched on and within range of an active cell tower, and your wireless provider has to participate in WEA.
If you turn off the vibration or sound on your mobile phone, you might not feel the vibration or hear the alert signal.
FEMA says that if you didn’t receive an alert, it may be because your phone is in “WiFi-only” or “airplane” mode, is connected to a virtual private network or has opted out of receiving alerts under the notification settings menu.
If you were on a phone call when the alert was sent to your cellphone, the message and tone were delayed until you hung up, FEMA notes.
How long the test lasted
All major U.S. wireless providers participate in Wireless Emergency Alerts and transmitted the national test in a 30-minute window, but your mobile phone should have received it only once. Alerts lasted for approximately 15 seconds.
If your TV or radio was turned on and tuned to a broadcast station, satellite radio, TV service, cable or wireless TV, you should have received the test from the EAS.
How abuse victims can keep secret cellphones hidden
At-risk individuals in abusive relationships or survivors of domestic violence might keep a hidden cellphone as a means for safe or emergency contact. Organizations like the National Network to End Domestic Violence issued warnings about the alert and advised that survivors should power off their devices ahead of the test at 2:20 p.m. ET, avoid scheduling phone calls on their hidden devices during that time and wait until after 2:50 p.m. ET to power them back on. Out of an abundance of caution, it is advised to power the hidden device back on only when in a safe place.
Why did the national emergency test happen?
Since 2015, FEMA has been required by law to conduct tests of the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System at least once every three years. The last national test was conducted in 2021.