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Emergency warning test coming to every radio and TV in the nation

November 7, 2011 |  1:08 pm

Orson WellesThis is only a test. Seriously.

That's what the Federal Emergency Management Agency wants the public to know about the first nationwide test of the emergency alert system, scheduled for Wednesday.

The decades-old warning system is often tested locally, but it’s never been tested on every radio and TV station in the country at the same time, according to FEMA.

The agency is trying to get the word out about the test to avoid unnecessary alarm like, say, the panic caused by Orson Welles’ 1938 radio broadcast of a fictional Martian invasion in New Jersey.

Officials also want to prevent the test from tying up 911 phone lines.

"We have alerted our 911 call centers about the possibility for increased call volume during the Nov. 9 test,'' Alisa Simmons, a spokeswoman for the 911 network in Tarrant County, Texas, said in a statement appealing to the public not to call to inquire about the exercise.

Wednesday's 30-second test, which will sound and look like the familiar local tests, will begin at 2 p.m. EST (11 a.m. PST). Some 30,000 radio and TV operations will participate in the test.

Federal officials considered a three-minute test but decided on 30 seconds "to reduce any potential disruptions to the American people, while still maintaining our ability to test the system's nationwide capabilities," said FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen.

The Federal Communications Commission and FEMA offer their own reminders, with additional details for those wanting such things.

The test has generated chatter on FEMA’s blog, with one person commenting, "How about cellphones? Everybody has one. Your system is outdated."

The Federal Communications Commission has moved to extend the emergency alert system to cellphones, beginning in the New York area by the end of the year and reaching the rest of the country by next spring.


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Photo: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is trying to avoid a repeat of the panic caused by Orson Welles' broadcast of "The War of the Worlds" in 1938. Credit: Associated Press