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Cellphones across America will get an emergency alert on Wednesday. Here's why

The Emergency Alert System is a nationwide public alert system.

NBC Universal, Inc.

When the alert sound starts blaring on your phone Wednesday, don't be alarmed. It's only a test.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission will conduct a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts on Oct. 4.

Here’s what you should know:

When is the alert going to happen?

The nationwide alert is scheduled for approximately 2:20 p.m. ET. During this time, an emergency alert will sound on all cellphones, wireless devices, radios and televisions.

The process involves two parts: a 30-minute signal sent to radios and televisions as part of EAS, and a similar one sent to all consumer cellphones as part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts system.

It’s important to note that this is just a test, and no action is required.

However, if there is severe weather or other significant events, the raincheck date for testing will be Oct. 11.

What will the message say?

Cellphones will receive a test message that reads: “This is a test of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

Those who have their phone settings set to Spanish will receive the same message in Spanish:  “Esta es una prueba del Sistema Nacional de Alerta de Emergencia. No se necesita acción.”

Why am I getting an emergency alert?

For years now, FEMA has tested the Emergency Alert System to ensure that it continues to be an effective means of warning the public about emergencies, particularly those on the national level. Both EAS and the wireless emergency alerts are “critical tools” that save lives and allow people to protect property when natural disasters, acts of terrorism and other threats to public safety strike, said FEMA spokesman Jeremy Edwards.

State and local agencies also use EAS to provide important weather updates, such as tornado alerts.

Federal law requires the systems be tested at least once every three years. The last nationwide test was Aug. 11, 2021.

Why is the alert sound so unpleasant?

The distinct and attention-grabbing sound of the EAS is intentionally loud and alarming.

The audio signal used for the tests utilizes the same combination of tones familiar to Americans since 1963, when President John F. Kennedy established the original Emergency Broadcast System through an executive order.

It’s also the same tone as those sent by more than 1,700 local, state, territorial and tribal authorities that send similar alerts for more localized emergencies.

Al Kenyon, FEMA IPAWS’s customer support brand chief, explained that this distinctive sound educates the public to respond to alerts.

“You know when you hear that sound, something important that may affect your life or property is going to follow,” he said.

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