POLITICS

FEMA Postpones Test Of Presidential Emergency Alert System

Almost every American with a cell phone can expect a text from Donald Trump in early October.

Americans should no longer expect to receive a text message from President Donald Trump on Sept. 20, the day the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Federal Communications Commission originally planned to test a new feature that would allow the president to send out emergency alerts. 

They should plan to get one on Oct. 3 instead, FEMA announced Monday, noting the delay in testing the Wireless Emergency Alert feature is due to “ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Florence.”

More than 100 mobile providers have agreed to participate in the program. That means nearly every American with a cell phone is expected to get a message from the president at 2:18 p.m. Eastern time on the day of the test. 

There is currently no way to opt out of the presidential alerts, even though cell phone users may opt out of other emergency messages such as Amber alerts.  

The 2015 law authorizing the WEA system stipulates that it “shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.” Read: No politics allowed.

Still, some have voiced concern about how such an unfiltered president may choose to use the system, which was in development before Trump entered the White House. People on Twitter began using the hashtag #GoDark920, referencing the previously announced test day, to encourage cell phone users to turn off their devices and avoid getting the alert.

Cell towers are set to broadcast the alert for 30 minutes, so most cell phones that are turned on and within range of a tower will receive it. The texts will read “Presidential Alert,” followed by: “This is a test of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” 

Tim Groeling, a communications professor at UCLA, told NBC News in an email that he wasn’t worried about the idea of handing such a large microphone to Trump because broadcast-based emergency alert systems “have remained professional and impartial over decades.”

“A system like this seems necessary in an era where most people are disconnected from ‘live’ media like radio and television,” Groeling told the outlet.

FEMA and the FCC also plan to also perform a test of the Emergency Alert System, which sends emergency messages to televisions and radio stations nationwide, directly after the WEA test. 

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