Presidential Alert Test Planned By FEMA’s National Emergency Wireless System

Cell phones nationwide can expect to receive a presidential alert test at 2:18 p.m. ET Wednesday, says the New York Times. The test was originally scheduled to happen in September, but FEMA’s efforts were focused on Hurricane Florence so the big day was rescheduled to its “backup date” of October 3. Today’s test marks the first for a wireless emergency system called Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), which the president will be able to use to send emergency messages to the public, states FEMA’s website.

Many Americans are already familiar with the older Emergency Alert System (EAS), which reports emergencies and Amber alerts to the public through loud phone notifications. Now, the president will gain capabilities that he is granted through the 1934 Communications Act, which gives the president power to make use of emergency communications in emergencies, and a law passed in 2006 stating that the Federal Communications Commission would work with wireless companies to put an alert system into motion. Today’s test should be similar to past nationwide tests of the EAS, which happened in 2011, 2016, and 2017. It is expected to last about a minute and the heading will say “presidential alert.”

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed,” FEMA states the message will say.

FEMA estimates that about 75 percent of cell phones nationwide will be reached by the alert test based on carriers participating in the program. As the Inquisitr previously reported, a notable change in the new alert system is the inability for Americans to block the presidential alerts from reaching their phone. Previously and currently, users can still block weather emergency alerts and Amber alerts, among others. This new detail has already sparked a lawsuit, said Politico on Monday. Apparently, three New Yorkers filed a suit in federal courts last week claiming that the inability to block presidential messages violates their rights to free speech and involves unconstitutional seizure of their electronic devices without their permission.

The three New York plaintiffs claim that the new alert system could be used as “government loudspeakers” to promote political propaganda. This might be especially concerning because of Trump’s prolific use of Twitter to spread his messages. However, Politico points out that in 2016, President Obama signed a law stating that aside from tests (such as today’s), the governmental emergency alert system “shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.” The plaintiffs say that this language is too vague and that the president may still find a way to use the technology to his advantage. Apparently, the trio is pursuing charges without the aid of an attorney.

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