Emergency alert system test coming to phones, TVs, and radios across the U.S.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023, at approximately 2:20 PM Eastern Daylight Time—you’ve been warned. Or, rather, you will be. But don’t take it personally. Pretty much everyone in the U.S. will receive the same message.

That’s the date the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Federal Communications Commission are scheduled to test their National Wireless Emergency Alert System, which will issue to every television, cellphone, and radio. The runthrough will actually consist of two parts, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). The former will transmit to radios and TVs, while the latter will issue to all consumer cell phones, according to FEMA’s announcement earlier this month.

Individuals with phones in range of a cell tower will receive a message to the effect of, “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” Meanwhile, phones set to Spanish will receive the same bulletin in users’ default language. Television and radio broadcasts will be interrupted for approximately one minute with a message stating, “This is a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, covering the United States from 14:20 to 14:50 hours ET. This is only a test. No action is required by the public.”

[Related: Hurricane-powered wildfires sweep across Maui.]

October 4 will mark the seventh instance of the EAS test beamed out to radios and televisions, while it will only be the second nationwide WEA test. Despite their frequency, its organizers’ hopes that the bulletins will only ever need to remain as tests, and not deployment for a real emergency.

Speaking with The New York Times on August 30, Jeff Schlegelmilch, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, explained that, while there are “very few circumstances where you will notify the entire country about something,” they remain important since, “Speaking generally, alerts are only effective if people know what they are and they know what to do with them.”

The NY Times went on to cite the recent, deadly fires in Maui, Hawaii, during which the region’s emergency management agency decided against sounding sirens to alert residents. In January 2018, however, Hawaii did receive an emergency alert regarding a supposed incoming ballistic missile attack—only to get a follow-up 38 minutes later chalking the message up to an accident.

Correction (September 25, 2023): The story previously stated that the alert would go out on October 4 at 2:20 Eastern Standard Time. It should be Eastern Daylight Time.