The test of the federal Emergency Alert System at 2 p.m. Wednesday left some observers, both locally and nationwide, puzzled.
An audio message saying, "This is a test," was supposed to be broadcast for the first time in the United States and its territories simultaneously on radio, satellite radio, television and cable stations, followed by the familiar screeching sound. This, the first test of a nationwide Emergency Alert on all media, was supposed to last about 30 seconds.
That apparently was not what happened in all cases.
Ed Brunt, Madison's Deputy Director of Emergency Management said Wednesday afternoon, "I was in the car a 2pm... I heard the the annoying screech but no audio on 660 WFAN. I switched to WTIC 1080 and heard (barely) the audio message with a lot of echo and background noise. I guess the test revealed a lot of weaknesses in the system. That's why you test it, right?"
This article in the New York Times also pointed out some problems.
"Beginning at 2:01 p.m., viewers and listeners in many states said they saw and heard the alerts at the scheduled time, but others said they did not. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancies ... Many of the reported failures affected cable and satellite television subscribers, and some were quite head-scratching: Some DirecTV subscribers said their TV sets played the Lady Gaga song “Paparazzi” when the test was underway. Some Time Warner Cable subscribers in New York said the test never appeared on screen. Some Comcast subscribers in northern Virginia said their TV sets were switched over to QVC before the alert was shown."
FEMA, the FCC and other federal partners, along with state, local, tribal and territorial governments and others worked for about two years to prepare this nationwide test, as part of the nation's ongoing emergency preparedness planning efforts.