Did the national Emergency Alert System mistakenly play Lady Gaga?
FEMA sent out a live emergency alert notification that was supposed to be accompanied by a 'this is only a test' disclaimer Wednesday. The disclaimer did not always happen. Some observers said they heard a Lady Gaga song instead.
Reaction to the first-ever national test of the Emergency Alert System shows a range of public reaction and quite a few technological bumps in the road.Skip to next paragraph
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Less than stellar results from Wednesday's test raises the issue of just how best to send out a national alert to the American public.
At 2 p.m. Eastern time, officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington sent out a live emergency alert notification that was supposed to be accompanied by a "this is only a test" audio and video disclaimer.
In some cases the disclaimer was broadcast. In other cases the message was missing altogether or did not include the audio caveat. And some observers were even annoyed by the alert's dated graphics.
"It's 2012 and our emergency alert system still sounds like a Speak and Spell and looks like an Atari 2600," wrote one among a range of instant reactions broadcast on Twitter. The tweet was apparently a response to the 1960s-style black and white lettering of the television message.
"I don't watch TV and I hardly listen to radio," another tweet added. "An Emergency Alert System that also sends an SMS to all cellphones would be more useful to me."
Catering to the government-wary, the Drudge Report posted articles on its site under headlines like: "All TV, Radio Run Gov't Message." Some on Twitter sounded a similar note.
"So that's cool. This Emergency Alert System show[s] the government can just control all media now?"
Others said they didn't see the test at all.
"Did not see it on Comcast in Northern Virginia. Instead, saw about 30 seconds of QVC (was watching MSNBC at test time)," another tweet read.
One reason the alert was not seen by some is that satellite television providers are not yet a part of the Emergency Alert System, FEMA officials say.
It has also been reported that a Lady Gaga song played through the test period for some viewers.
The glitches are just a few of the gaps in a system created almost five decades ago.
Americans used to be able to easily tune in to the Emergency Broadcast System. Every radio dial had a small triangle marking where the public could tune in for a message from the government. Everyone knew about it. How quaint.
From Facebook and Twitter, to cell phones and e-mail, digital communications capabilities of the nation have rocketed ahead even as the US government's Emergency Alert System has remained tied to radio and television technology.
In the wake of 9/11, the move to push into the digital realm – specifically with cell phone and smart-phone alerts – has grown. In 2006, President Bush signed an order to develop "an effective, reliable, integrated, flexible, and comprehensive system to alert and warn the American people ... "
To that end, the new Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) system being developed by FEMA and the FCC will eventually include not only the EAS, but digital capability to send alerts to cell phones, websites and other tools.