Emergency system gets nationwide test today

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Missouri News Horizon
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. They may be annoying, but TV and radio broadcasters hope you will be able to hear the tones of a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System today at 1:00 p.m.

All TV stations, radio stations and cable television companies will be required to broadcast the test alert simultaneously. The test will mimic a presidential level emergency in which notification of the entire nation to an emergency situation will be necessary.

“It will have to mimic an actual live event in certain aspects, and so we’re just trying to make sure that everybody understands that at 1:00 p.m., no matter what you might see or hear, it is really just a test,” said Don Hicks, President & CEO of the Missouri Broadcasters’ Association.

Hicks said his organization, as well as other emergency services, have been clamoring for  the test for years because it’s important to find weaknesses in the nationwide system. Test in the past have been held at the local and state level only.

“I my view, it’s kind of good to test it til you break it,” Hicks said. ‘It’s important to put it on, and force the system to take on maybe more than you think it could handle in order to see where that breaking point is.”

Hicks said the alert will originate in Washington D.C., reaching strategically placed radio stations all across the country. These so-called “Primary Entry Point” stations will then relay the test on to local stations and cable systems in their areas of coverage.

Many radio and cable systems are equipped with automatic triggering mechanisms that will stop programming immediately to broadcast the test message. Hicks said many television and radio stations rely on people stationed at master control boards to relay the message. He said any break down in the system would probably be caused by human error.

“It’s our goal to have the alert rebroadcast on all outlets within 15 minutes,” Hicks said.

This is the first ever nationwide test of a presidential level emergency alert, the highest priority message in the EAS system. Hicks said his organization has spent months making sure its members are equipped for and aware of the test’s time and manner of distribution.

In Missouri, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety said the agency is not taking an active part in the test, but it is a good time to remind Missouri residents to be prepared for an emergency situation such as a power blackout, blizzard, ice storm or tornado.

“This is a good opportunity just to remind people that it’s a good idea to have on hand an emergency supply for the family,” said Mike O’Connell.

O’Connell said the supply list should include at least a three day supply of bottled water, canned and dried foods, a portable radio with extra batteries, a manual can opener, extra medications for those who take them daily.

O’Connell said with all of the weather related emergencies the state has experienced in the last year, the test couldn’t come at a better time.

“If ever there’s been a year that reminds the public that it’s good to be prepared and to make sure that you have plans and that everything is in place and that technology works, it’s 2011,” he said.