Chances are you remember that false-alarm “missile threat” warning that went out to everyone in Hawaii last January. Well, in a similar alert, President Donald Trump just sent a message straight to your phone. Here’s what happened.
Today, Wednesday, Oct. 3, at 2:18 p.m. ET, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), along with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), conducted its first nationwide test of the presidential alert.
It landed on people's phones...and even their smartwatches.
The alert is designed to let the president address the country in the event of a national emergency.
The test was originally scheduled for Sept. 20, also at 2:18 p.m. ET, but was pushed back two weeks because of ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Florence, according to FEMA. More than 100 carriers across the US participated in the test, the agency said, so most Americans should have received the message.
The headline was “Presidential Alert,” and it read: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
This probably isn’t the first time you’ve encountered a similar warning message blaring on your phone. Emergency text alerts have been used since 2012 for public safety warnings such as extreme weather, natural disasters, and the infamous Amber child abduction emergency alert. In fact, the presidential alert used the same special tone and vibration as the Amber Alert.
But unlike Amber Alerts and weather warnings, presidential alerts are not optional, according to FEMA.
The alert is part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts system (WEA), the result of a law that former president Barack Obama signed in 2016, requiring FEMA to create a system for the head of state to broadcast public safety announcements about disasters and terrorist attacks to the public.
If you were wondering... No, Trump won’t be able to use the system to broadcast his tweets.
The law explicitly states, “The public alert and warning system 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.”
Still, Twitter freaked out the minute the alert hit, because of course.
And the fact that President Trump has *sole* responsibility for when the emergency system will be used — a presidential privilege he exercised this afternoon — made some people nervous.
Ahead of the alert, a few people on Twitter said they planned to turn off their phones completely on the appointed day and time of Trump’s message, rallying around the hashtag #GoDark920 (which is now out of date, given that the test was moved to Oct. 3). Today, some used a new hashtag called #GoDark1003.
Weirdly, lots of people also said they didn’t get the presidential alert at all. In an interview with CBS Baltimore, FEMA said if a user was on a call at the time the alert was sent, or had an active data session open on their phone, they might not have received the message.
FEMA added that only WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts) compatible cell phones that were switched on and in range of an active cell tower, and whose carrier participates in WEA, would have been able to receive the alert.