Emergency officials will issue a single alert and it'll go out to all wireless phones.
The first nationwide cellphone test will happen at 2:18 p.m. today with TV and radio alerts to sound off 2 minutes later.
Although called the Presidential Alert System, that doesn't mean President Trump is tweeting out a doomsday alert, and the messages aren't really coming from the White House.
"It's always been called the Presidential Alert System," said Tim Warstler, Stark County Emergency Management Agency director. "It's about national level disasters, terror attacks and occurrences of that nature. This system (enables officials) to warn everybody that something really big is going on, such as in a hurricane area, so they know they have to evacuate."
This alert, however, is a first-ever and it involves cellphones.
All cellphones with updated software will sound the alert — one that can't be prevented by simply disabling the alert function on the cellphone device, Warstler said.
And the message is, "This is a test of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed," he said.
Some phones, depending on the software, may even include a message that "This is a Presidential Alert."
Without this system, however, most people can't be reached because most people no longer have traditional TV or cable or even land-based phone lines.
"People use Netflix, Hulu, Sling....," Warstler said, services that aren't connected to a national broadcast network.
The test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) will enable authorities to "assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether improvements are needed," according to Federal Emergency Management Agency's website.
"This is part of what's called the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, or IPAWS," Warstler said. "This is a test to make sure the system is able to work, to send a message in a time of disaster to everything within a set area."
According to the FEMA website, "IPAWS enables public safety alerting authorities such as emergency managers, police, and fire departments to send the same alert and warning message over multiple communication pathways at the same time to citizens in harm’s way, helping to save lives."
Emergency officials sending out an alert about a pending disaster need only issue one alert with the IPAWS technology.
That message may go out to cellphones, weather radios and TV and radio stations simultaneously. For today's testing, however, the alerts will go out separately, two minutes apart, Warstler said.
Alerts for some systems, such as weather radio alerts and Amber alerts for endangered children, typically need to be issued independently of one another. Systems are activated differently and with separate, specific sets of criteria, Warstler said.
With the IPAWS system, messages from local officials during an emergency will go out to the public on smart devices in a single alert.
"We only have to send the message one place," Warstler said. "It's simply the way of the future."
Evolving technology use
Most people no longer use landlines. Home-based telephones have been replaced by cellphones.
A survey by the National Center for Health Statistics showed that in the first half of 2017, more than 52 percent of all households in the United States had only wireless cellphones, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, or CDC.
"Nearly three-quarters of all adults aged 25-34 were living in wireless-only households; more than two-thirds (70.7%) of adults renting their homes were living in wireless-only households," the survey showed.
Landlines still work when the power goes out, yet because most people no longer have them, "we have to be able to get messages to the cellphones," Warstler said.
And eventually, he said, the alert messages will sound off on other smart devices, such as Alexa and Google Home devices.
"The idea behind this is to be able to reach any type of device that people would use for communication," he said.
Warstler cautioned that not all cellphones will receive the alert.
Older phones without updated software won't be affected.
"It's not the cellphone, it's the version of the software on the cellphone," Warstler said. So older phones with updated software may still get the alerts.
The federal agency and the Federal Communications Commission initially planned to conduct the test on Sept. 20, but delayed it due to emergency efforts taking place in the path of Hurricane Florence.
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