Today was the first test of the new Emergency Alert System, which is a centrally controlled version of the Emergency Broadcast System whose tests have been annoying the hell out of people for the better part of fifty years. The idea is to give the President a way to alert the entire populace to a national emergency instantly, by seizing control of all TV and radio communications.
In the event of a nuclear war, large-scale civil unrest, a massive cyber-attack, or a zombie apocalypse, you’ll hear a headache-inducing tone, followed by emergency instructions. Unless we get attacked by an electromagnetic pulse weapon. Then you’ll be alerted to disaster by the collective howl of millions of enraged cell phone users. The EAS tone is less alarming.
The test was a… well, “failure” is such an ugly word. Let’s just say it was a “conditional success.” As reported by the New York Times:
Beginning at 2:01 p.m., viewers and listeners in many states said they saw and heard the alerts at the scheduled time, but others said they did not. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancies, but that was one of the purposes of the test — to find out how well the system would work in an actual emergency.
Many of the reported failures affected cable and satellite television subscribers, and some were quite puzzling. Some DirecTV subscribers said their TV sets played the Lady Gaga song “Paparazzi” when the test was under way. Some Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York said the test never appeared on screen. Some Comcast subscribers in northern Virginia said their TV sets were switched over to QVC before the alert was shown.
In some cases the test messages were delayed, perhaps because they were designed to trickle down from one place to many. A viewer in Minneapolis said he saw the message about three minutes late. A viewer in Chattanooga, Tenn., said she saw it about 10 minutes late.
In Greensboro, N.C., a local reporter saw the alert on all the cable news channels but on none of the local broadcast networks. In Los Angeles, some cable customers said the alert lasted almost half an hour.
Americans have become accustomed to their government spending staggering amounts of money on crap that doesn’t work, so today’s Emergency Alert System test was pretty much par for the course. Compared to “green energy” programs, it was a smashing success, unless you happen to live in sparsely populated areas like Chattanooga or New York City. Just keep your ears peeled in the future, as you will probably hear either a warning tone and important instructions, or a Lady Gaga song, within ten minutes or so of a major national catastrophe.