UPDATE: About 3 of 4 Phones Received Oct. 3 'Presidential Alert' Warning Test

UPDATE: About 3 of 4 Phones Received Oct. 3 ‘Presidential Alert’ Warning Test

  • Friday, Oct. 5, Update

The Illinois Emergency Management Agency, along with its state partners at the Illinois State Police and Illinois State Board of Education notified residents of an Oct. 3 test of the emergency broadcast alert system.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission conducted a first-of-its-kind test of the nation’s emergency communications infrastructure via a test called a “Presidential Alert.”

On Wednesday, Oct. 3, a nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alert system commenced at 1:18 p.m. CST., followed by a national test of the Emergency Alert System at 1:20 p.m. 

According to media sources, about three of every four cell phones received the alert.

The WEA test message read:

THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System.  No action is needed.

The EAS message include da reference to the WEA test:

THIS IS A TEST of the National Emergency Alert System. This system was developed by broadcast and cable operators in voluntary cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and local authorities to keep you informed in the event of an emergency.

If this had been an actual emergency alert, an official message would have followed the alert tone you heard at the start of this message.

A similar wireless emergency alert text message has been sent to all cell phones nationwide. Some cell phones will receive the message; others will not. No action is required.

This is the first time the Wireless Emergency Alert system has been tested on a national level.

WEA is used to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children, and other regionally critical situations through alerts on cellular phones. WEA allows most customers to receive geo-targeted alerts of imminent threats to safety in their area.

The Oct. 3 WEA test was sent through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. Cell towers broadcast the WEA test for approximately 30 minutes.

During this time, cell phones that were switched on and within range of an active cell tower were capable of receiving the message. Cell phones should only receive the message once, although there were some reports of people getting the message multiple times.  Some older phones may not have received the test message.

“The test is intended to ensure public safety officials have the methods and systems to deliver urgent warnings and alerts to the public in times of an emergency or disaster,” said Acting IEMA Director William Robertson prior to the test. “Periodic testing is a way to access the operational readiness of the infrastructure and determine whether technological improvements are needed.”

While each message clearly stated THIS IS A TEST, Illinois State Police worked with local law enforcement and 9-1-1 call centers to prepare for the possibility of an increased call load.

Additionally, the Illinois State Board of Education worked with schools to ensure parents and school children were aware that the test will occur during school hours.

“The continuity of communications during an emergency is a vital component of public safety,” said ISP Director Leo P. Schmitz. “Testing our resources regularly ensures the abilities of first responders to save lives. The upcoming national test will help identify and repair deficiencies in keeping the public informed.”

In 2006, President George W. Bush signed an executive order to create an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible and comprehensive system to alert the American people in situations of war, terrorism, natural disaster or other hazards of public safety and well-being.

This task fell to the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security, and resulted in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s creation of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. The law requires a nationwide EAS test at least once every three years.  The last test of the EAS system was in 2017.

For more information about the upcoming Presidential Alert, including a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) in English and Spanish, visit www.ready.illinois.gov.

SOURCE: IEMA news release


1.Why are Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) important to me?
Alerts received at the right time can help keep you safe during an emergency. With WEA, warnings can be sent to your mobile device when you may be in harm’s way, without the need to download an app or subscribe to a service.

2.What are WEA messages?
Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through your mobile carrier.

3.What types of alerts will I receive?

  • Extreme weather, and other threatening emergencies in your area
  • AMBER Alerts
  • Presidential Alerts during a national emergencyAd Council, Ready.gov, and FEMA sponsored picture of the wireless emergency alert on iOS

4.What does a WEA message look like?
WEA will look like a text message. The WEA message will show the type and time of the alert, any action you should take, and the agency issuing the alert. The message will be no more than 90 characters.  Wireless Emergency Alert web banner (Spanish) – 70 KB

5.How will I know the difference between WEA and a regular text message?
WEA messages include a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice.

6.What types of WEA messages will the National Weather Service (NWS) send?

  • Tsunami Warnings
  • Tornado and Flash Flood Warnings
  • Hurricane, Typhoon, Dust Storm and Extreme Wind Warnings

7.What are AMBER Alerts?
AMBER Alerts are urgent bulletins issued in the most serious child-abduction cases. The America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response (AMBER) Alert Program is a voluntary partnership between law-enforcement agencies, broadcasters, transportation agencies, and the wireless industry.

8.Who will send WEAs to issue AMBER Alerts?
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), in coordination with State and local public safety officials, sends out AMBER Wireless Emergency Alerts through IPAWS.

9.What should I do when I receive a WEA message?
Follow any action advised by the message. Seek more details from local media or authorities.

10.Will I receive a WEA message if I’m visiting an area where I don’t live, or outside the area where my phone is registered?
Yes, if you have a WEA-capable phone and your wireless carrier participates in the program. (More than 100 carriers, including all of the largest carriers, do.)

11.What if I travel into a threat area after a WEA message is already sent?
If you travel into a threat area after an alert is first sent, your WEA-capable device will receive the message when you enter the area.

12.When will I start receiving WEA messages?
It depends. WEA capabilities were available beginning in April 2012, but many mobile devices, especially older ones, are not WEA-capable. When you buy a new mobile device, it probably will be able to receive WEA messages.

13.Is this the same service public safety agencies have asked the public to register for?

No but they are complementary. Local agencies may have asked you to sign up to receive telephone calls, text messages, or emails. Those messages often include specific details about a critical event. WEAs are very short messages designed to get your attention in a critical situation. They may not give all the details you receive from other notification services.

14.Will I be charged for receiving WEA messages?
No. This service is offered for free by wireless carriers. WEA messages will not count towards texting limits on your wireless plan.

15.Does WEA know where I am? Is it tracking me?
No. Just like emergency weather alerts you see on local TV, WEAs are broadcast from area cell towers to mobile devices in the area. Every WEA-capable phone within range receives the message, just like TV that shows the emergency weather alert. WEA, like the TV station, doesn’t know exactly who is tuned in.

16.Will a WEA message interrupt my phone conversations?
No, the alert will be delayed until you finish your call.

17.How often will I receive WEA messages?
You may get very few WEA messages, or you may receive frequent messages when conditions change during an emergency. The number of messages depends on the number of imminent threats to life or property in your area.

18.If, during an emergency, I can’t make or receive calls or text messages due to network congestion, will I still be able to receive a WEA message?
Yes, WEA messages are not affected by network congestion.

19.What if I don’t want to receive WEA messages?
You can opt-out of receiving WEA messages for imminent threats and AMBER alerts, but not for Presidential messages. To opt out, adjust settings on your mobile device.

20.How will I receive alerts if I don’t have a WEA-capable device?
WEA is only one of the ways you receive emergency alerts. Other sources include NOAA Weather Radio, news broadcasts, the Emergency Alert System on radio and TV programs, outdoor sirens, internet services, and other alerting methods offered by local and state public safety agencies.