Presidential alert system’s first test: If you have a cell phone, expect a call Thursday

presidential-alertjpg-527e2d8414d4a376Cell phone users around the country will receive a presidential alert message Thursday as part of a nationwide test. (Contributed photo/FEMA)

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is testing a new “presidential alert” system this week, allowing for a message to be sent to every cell phone in the U.S.

Here’s what you need to know:

What is the presidential alert system?

The test, being conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, involves a state-of-the-art alert system that will allow a message to be sent to cell phones around the country in the event of a national emergency. More than 100 cell phone carriers will participate in the test, FEMA said, including major companies such as Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile.

FEMA is required by law to conduct a nationwide test of its public alert systems no less than once every three years.

What will happen Thursday?

On Thursday, September 20 at 2:18 p.m. ET (1:18 p.m. CT) or shortly thereafter, anyone with a cell phone will receive a special text message on their phone. The message will have a header “Presidential Alert” with the message “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

Handsets that receive an alert will initiate a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice.

Has there been a cell phone test like this before?

No, this is the first time the cellular presidential alert system is being tested. These types of alerts were established in 2006 under President George W. Bush to allow the White House to issue notices in the event of an emergency.

Will there be any text charges related to the message?

No, you will not be charged for this test alert or any emergency messages received.

Is that the only test?

No. After the cell phone test, the Emergency Alert System will be tested over television, radio, and wireline video services. It’s the fourth time the EAS system has been tested with previous trials in November 2011; September 2016; and September 2017.

The message will say:

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Emergency Alert System. This system was developed by broadcast and cable operators in voluntary cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and local authorities to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency an official message would have followed the tone alert you heard at the start of this message. A similar wireless emergency alert test message has been sent to all cell phones nationwide. Some cell phones will receive the message; others will not. No action is required.”

When would these alerts be used?

The alerts can be sent at the discretion of the president and can be sent for any reason. The system can also be used by federal, state, local and tribal officials during local emergencies. The same systems can be used to send Amber alerts, extreme weather warnings and Presidential alerts about national emergencies. Users can opt out of receiving weather and Amber alerts but cannot opt out of receiving Presidential alerts.


If circumstances, such as a major weather event, cause the test to be postponed, the back-up date is Wednesday, Oct. 3.

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