It’s only a test! Nationwide alert goes live Wednesday

By Lori Monsewicz | staff writer

National Test of the Emergency Alert System to Take Place on Wednesday at 2 p.m. EST No, the aliens haven’t landed. But if they even try — and everything goes off without a hitch at 2 p.m. EST Wednesday — the U.S. President will be able to tell everyone.

Sirens are expected to blare coast-to-coast and across Hawaii and other U.S. territories at 2 p.m. EST Wednesday as part of a national public alert system test.

The system is being tested so that, in the event of “an extreme emergency,” the President may address everyone in nation simultaneously, said Tim Warstler, Stark County Emergency Management Agency director.

“It’s just never been tested before, not on a national level,” Warstler said. “We do the local test, but they’ve never done a national test of the system, and that’s part of the issue. That’s something the public’s not used to. So we don’t want to create any concern for the public.”

To quell undue public anxiety and avoid mass hysteria, such as what took place in 1938 when Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” Martian invasion story was broadcast over public radio, participating government agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, want everyone to know ahead of time that the public alert system is merely being tested.

The message will last three minutes on TV, radio and satellite broadcasts, and then regular programming will resume, Warstler said. “It’s just going to be the standard warning message. The test will look like the regular local test that most people are already familiar with.”

Warstler said he did not know whether the voice providing the alert is computer-generated or that of a known person.

FEMA’s website says that in 2006, then-President George W. Bush signed an act ensuring that U.S. residents be alerted and warned “in situations of war, terrorist attack, natural disaster or other hazards to public safety and well-being” through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System.

“This (national alert system) is a way for the President of the United States to address the entire nation on any incident of national significance,” Warstler said.