Not everyone got the ‘presidential alert’ test sent to cell phones nationwide

The test happened at 8:18 a.m. in Hawaii.

Not everyone got the ‘presidential alert’ test sent to cell phones nationwide
In the first test of its kind, FEMA will send out a "presidential alert" to cell phones nationwide in October. (Source: FEMA)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Most cell phone users in America got a message from President Donald Trump on Wednesday, but it wasn’t a political statement.

Instead, it was the first nationwide test of the presidential alert.

The Wireless Emergency Alert test started at 8:18 a.m. Hawaii time, with messages appearing on cell phones throughout the United States.

Two minutes later, there was a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System with messages through radio and TV broadcasts.

The message that showed up on cell phones had the header “Presidential Alert” followed by, “THIS IS A TEST of the Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency wants to know if improvements are needed to the system designed to send out a warning across the country in case of a national emergency.

“For example, if there was terrorist activity in one place and they didn’t know if there was the possibility of other events in other places, they may send a national alert, but it’s purely under the control of the president,” said Richard Rapoza, public information officer for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

Cell phone users should have received the test message as long as their phone is turned on and they’re within range of a cell tower. More than 100 wireless providers, including the largest carriers, participate in the WEA program.

But a number of people told Hawaii News Now that they did not get the alert or that they got it minutes after their friends or coworkers. That’s expected, said Rapoza, as this was the first of its kind for this particular alert.

Courtney Harrington, chair of the Hawaii State Emergency Communications Committee, said the alert would be used to warn the nation of a significant threat.

“Something that just happens to Hawaii, I would not expect to see that (to be used), unless this had something to do with the country as a whole,” she said.

The WEA system is used locally to warn people about situations such as extreme weather or missing children. Cell phone users can choose not to receive those messages, but they cannot opt out of the presidential alert.

“You’re talking (about) a very, very major event. That’s never happened in the emergency alert system, and God willing, it never will happen,” said Harrington.

The test was originally scheduled for Sept. 20, but it was delayed due to FEMA’s response efforts to Hurricane Florence. FEMA invites the public to send comments on the nationwide test to FEMA-National-Test@fema.dhs.gov.

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