FEMA test to put ‘presidential alert’ on 75 percent of U.S. cellphones, agency expects

September 21, 2018

Three-quarters of the country’s cellphones should display a “presidential alert” during an inaugural test of a nationwide notification system next month, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official said Friday.

Updating reporters during a conference call, a FEMA official said the Oct. 3 test of the government’s Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system should cause the notification to appear on “almost all of the phones across the country.”

“There are some issue, or challenges, and we know that there are some anomalies in the network based on how the devices are configured, so we would expect greater than 75 percent of the phones to actually receive and display the message,” the FEMA official told reporters on background, meaning their comments were not attributable to any person in particular.

Previously scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 20, the test will involve the nation’s largest cellular network providers sending a presidential alerts meant to be displayed on every phone within range, reading: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

Presidential alerts are one of three types of notifications that can be sent to phones over the WEA system, along with Amber Alerts for missing children and imminent threat warnings for emergencies such as severe weather and mass shootings, the FEMA official told reporters.

Unlike the other two types of notifications, presidential alerts will be sent simultaneously to phones across the country and cannot be opted out of, according to FEMA.

“If the nation was under attack, then this system could be used to notify the public,” said the official, who cited examples such as a missile launch or coordinated terrorist attacks taking place in several cities.

“If there was public peril and the president or his designee determined that the public needed to be notified about those events, then that would be a trigger to activate our national warning capabilities,” the official said.

FEMA referred to the White House when asked what officials would be designated to send presidential alerts. The White House did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Ninety-five percent of Americans own cellphones as of 2018, according to Pew Research Center, putting next month’s test on path to appear on more than 200 million devices.

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