Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Emergency system to be tested today

Express Staff Writer

Televisions and radios will emit a startling tone at noon today, Nov. 9, as the Federal Communications Commission conducts a test of the Emergency Alert System.

The sound will last 30 seconds, rather than a previously planned three and a half minutes. While the tone may be unnerving, it is simply a test to ensure that national, state and local authorities can reach the public quickly in an emergency.

Beth English, director of emergency communications for Blaine County, said many residents may not notice the test, but that she wanted the public to be aware that it was a test and not a real emergency.

"Mostly, I want to make sure the community is aware of the test, in order to cut down on non-emergency 911 calls," she said. "With it only being 30 seconds, it may not be that big of a deal."

English said that while the tone will be preceded by an audio message that indicates it is a test, a scrolling video message on television stations may not make that clear.

The Emergency Alert System is a national public warning system that enables the president to reach the entire nation at once in case of a national crisis such as terrorist activity or terrorist action. According to a 2002 article in The New York Times, the system was not deployed during the 9/11 terrorist attacks because the media had picked up the story before the system could be deployed.

The national tests are issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, while the National Weather Service conducts local and statewide tests. English said this is the first nationwide test to be conducted.

Blaine County officials have never deployed the system, English said, mainly because there has not been an occasion. However, she said, the system stands at the ready to alert residents in the event of a major incident such as an earthquake or a widespread hazardous materials problem.

Katherine Wutz:

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