FEMA to test 'Presidential Alert' system

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People will get test text from the Wireless Emergency Alerts system for the first time on Thursday, Sept. 20.

Compatible cell phones will receive a text message that reads "Presidential Alert" and "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System".

"Our participation in this test will provide valuable information on the effectiveness and reliability of the emergency alert system and wireless emergency alerts", said Matt Kasper, director of sales at U.S. Cellular in New England.

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Factors include the model of cellphone (older phones may not be capable of receiving the alert) or whether the cellphone owner is on a call, out of range of a cell tower or in a tunnel, he explained.

Mobile alerts sent through the WEA system are now categorized as imminent threats about emergencies in an area, including extreme weather, AMBER alerts for missing children or "Presidential alerts about emergencies of national effect", FEMA said. "In other words, it's basically like an amber alert from the president when we're all about to die. No action is needed".

The test is scheduled to occur at 2:18 p.m. EDT Thursday. The test will assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether improvements are needed.

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The system is used to warn the public about risky weather, missing children, and other critical situations through alerts on cellphones. Emergency alerts will also continue to be available on NOAA Weather Radio, news broadcasts, the Emergency Alert System on radio and TV programs and via outdoor sirens.

If you've purchased a phone since roughly 2015, it comes with a setting that allows it to receive certain alerts. Cell towers will broadcast the WEA test for approximately 30 minutes.

The system sends out a nationwide text to the public in the event of an emergency. FEMA is likely hoping to avoid a repeat of the debacle surrounding Hawaii's system test, which sent out a false alarm regarding an inbound missile.

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In the event of severe weather or any other emergency, the backup date for the test will be October 3.

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