By Amanda Ayers
The University’s own radio station, WVBU, participated in the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS).
The test was conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in partnership with the Federal Communciations Commission (FCC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 2 p.m.
The EAS is designed to function as an efficient means of nationwide communication. The system exists to theoretically ensure the safety of the public by informing them of vital information quickly and efficiently in the event of any type of hazard.
Weekly and monthly tests of the system have been carried out before, but have only been on the local or regional levels in the past, typically to report on telephone outages and hazardous weather. There was a lot of activity, for example, during the intense flooding that affected Lewisburg in September, but the warning signal only affected stations in the Susquehanna Valley.
Wednesday’s test was different because nothing has been done on quite so large a scale before. This is the first time that the test was administered nationally. In the future, the EAS system will be used to communicate with the American public during emergency situations. The President will have the power to send out a special signal that will, theoretically, automatically switch every station to broadcast his public address.
“I believe that the EAS is a very effective way to reach people in the case of an emergency. It is commonly used during local weather emergencies. I feel that EAS is the most efficient system we have in place for communicating emergency information. It encompasses radio, broadcast television and cable TV providers and a web presence. There is no other system that contains the wide combination of media resources that EAS does and can coordinate them all to disperse urgent information,” said Senior Technology Support Specialist, Todd Fogle.
Similar to local emergency alert system tests that most people are already familiar with, an audio message interrupted television and radio programming at 2 p.m. stating: “This is a test.” As planned, regular programming resumed after the test was over.
The signal was transmitted via television and radio stations within the U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii, as well as the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa, through a system of rebroadcasting. There are 36 locations throughout the country that were intended to receive the message directly from FEMA. From there, the message was rebroadcast to smaller stations, like the University’s, that picked up the signal from WQKX. While every station in the country was intended to receive the test message on Wednesday, this was most likely not a reality.
“The problem with the FCC is that it’s terribly inefficient,” WVBU production manager Alex Alam ’13 said.
An executive order by former President George W. Bush mandated that a new EAS system be implemented five years ago, but the system has not been entirely set up.
“Legally, we’re required to have a system that doesn’t exist,” Alam said prior of the test. “Organizationally they are a nightmare.”
While each station originally was legally required by the FCC to have their system perfectly execute the EAS test, they are now only required to report whether or not it worked after the fact. Ultimately, WVBU was able to receive the signal successfully despite hectic preparation.
“Since it’s difficult to pick up even our own signal down in the basement, it took us several hours to be able to pick up WQKX. Finally, we got an old radio out of Todd’s truck, which was able to pick up the signal, though only in the opposite corner of the other room. So what we have in place to make it work is actually this really old radio with a wire sticking out the back that runs through the wall and to the station. After we got it all set up, the test came through today as planned, without a hitch,” Alam said.
The FCC, FEMA and NOAA, as well as the University administration, made it very clear that this was indeed just a warning and a test of the EAS system; there was no real hazard.
“As we get close to the test, the FCC and all of our many partners are working together to spread the word to as many members of the public as possible–-so people know what to expect when the test takes place, and no one is caught off guard. We’re asking everyone to join us by spreading the word to your neighbors, co-workers, friends and family,” the FEMA website said.