JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Despite advanced warning, some were still caught by surprise when their smartphones sounded at 2:18 p.m. Wednesday, announcing a nationwide test of the Presidential Alert system.
The message acted like an AMBER Alert or severe weather warning, and read: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
The alert was followed by similar tests broadcast on radio and television stations throughout the country.
Who’s in charge of sending out this alert?
It wasn't actually President Donald Trump sending you an alert. Instead, the message came directly from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
But in a real emergency, the alert would be ordered by the president or someone of his choosing, then activated by FEMA, according to the agency.
“The EA is a national public warning system that provides the President with the communications capability to address the nation during a national emergency,” FEMA said in a news release.
When did the alert go out?
Originally scheduled for Sept. 20, the test was postponed until Wednesday because of the federal government’s disaster relief efforts in response to Hurricane Florence.
The alert lasted approximately one minute.
Afterward, the agency performed an EAS test at 2:20 p.m., which lasted for about a minute. It was similar to the routine tests that flash across your television screen once a month.
Why did this happen to me?
The short answer is, the government wants to make sure it works in case we ever need it. Here's the slightly longer version:
The WEA and EAS systems are used to warn the public as quickly as possible about emergencies, such as a tornado touching down or a missing and endangered child.
The goal of Wednesday’s test is to check how well the system works and iron out any wrinkles, so that it works properly in the event of a national emergency.
So… can I opt out of the alerts?
No. While users do have the option of not receiving alerts for severe weather and missing children, they cannot opt out of getting Presidential alerts.
The Communications Act of 1934 empowers the president to use private sector communications, such as wireless service, to reach the public in case of national emergencies, according to FEMA's website.
That means you'll receive any Presidential Alert automatically -- unless your phone is off, you're not close enough to a cell tower or your wireless provider isn't enrolled with WEA.
The Federal Communications Commission said it is not collecting any data from the test, but it will be asking cellphone providers how it went.