FEMA To Begin Testing Presidential Alert System For National Emergencies

The President's voice could be used for cell phone messages to warn of impending emergencies.

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The President's voice could be used for cell phone messages to warn of impending emergencies.

You may soon begin receiving messages about emergency situations from President Donald Trump on your cell phone. These will not be the President’s usual tweets and newscasts, though those will still continue. USA Today reports that FEMA is testing a new alert system that involves voicemails from President Trump. The goal behind the new system is to warn U.S. residents of things like dangerous weather. For example, such a system could likely be used now during the extreme weather situation caused by tropical storm Hurricane Florence.

FEMA posted a notice on its website about the upcoming test, saying it “provides the president with the communications capability to address the nation during a national emergency.” FEMA is coordinating with the Federal Communications Commission to run the test, which is going to last for about one minute.

The test is scheduled for next Thursday, September 20 at 2:18 p.m. Eastern time. Cell phone users can expect to receive either a text message indicating that it is a test for the new wireless emergency response system. Not everyone is pleased about the idea. Actress and political activist Alyssa Milano tweeted at FEMA, asking how she and others can opt out of the warning system.

However, FEMA says that while citizens can opt out AMBER alerts for abducted children, and other alerts for “imminent threats,” no one will be able to opt out of presidential messages sent through the alert system. AMBER alerts send text messages describing missing children, any potential abductor, or vehicle they were in. They have been credited with helping solve missing children cases or locate suspects quickly.

The public safety alert system was authorized in Congress in 2008. It started operating in 2012 and has previously been used regionally.

The test may be delayed if Hurricane Florence continues to rage, but as of now FEMA says that the test is still going to proceed as scheduled on Thursday.

It’s unclear how users can determine if they are in the test group before Thursday, but FEMA said all cell phone users whose providers have authorized Wireless Emergency Alerts. Cell phones must also be switched on and within range of a cell phone tower in order to receive the messages. The backup date for the test is scheduled for October 3, 2018. Hopefully the information that it’s a test is not forgotten by that point. But it appears the language is clear, so few should be alarmed by receiving the message.