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Your cellphone may ring with an EAS alert on Wednesday. It’s just a test, FEMA says

A rare nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alert system is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 4, at around 2:20 p.m. The Wireless Emergency Alert System is a way to send targeted, text-like messages to compatible mobile devices to warn of imminent safety threats, according to FEMA.
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A rare nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alert system is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 4, at around 2:20 p.m. The Wireless Emergency Alert System is a way to send targeted, text-like messages to compatible mobile devices to warn of imminent safety threats, according to FEMA.

A rare nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alert system is scheduled for Wednesday around 2:20 p.m. ET.

The Wireless Emergency Alert System is a way to send targeted, text-like messages to compatible mobile devices to warn of imminent safety threats, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Since the system’s launch in 2012, it’s been used more than 80,000 times to warn specific people in threatened areas about dangerous weather, missing children and other dangers.

But Wednesday’s test will be only the third nationwide test. And it’s just the second test sent to all cellular phones, the agency says. The purpose is to ensure the alert system works in the event of a national threat.

During the test, cellphones should ring with a unique tone and vibration, which would be used in the event of an actual emergency.

For consumers, FEMA says the message that appears on phones will read: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

Compatible cell phones that are switched on and within range of an active cell tower should be capable of receiving the test message. The message will display in either English or Spanish depending on the language of the phone.

The test will be done by FEMA in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Bureau.

“These test alerts are necessary to verify that the system is working properly so that, in a real case, citizens will know what to do,” said Nino Correa Filomeno, PREMB commissioner, in a statement.

“Amid this hurricane season, and any time an emergency occurs, it is necessary to have this system in place,” Filomeno said.

Wednesday will also feature an old-fashioned Emergency Alert System (EAS) test on radio and television. That test will last about one minute and is being conducted with the participation of broadcasters, cable systems and satellite radio and TV providers, among others. It will be the seventh nationwide EAS test, FEMA says.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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