POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

FEMA to issue emergency test alert to cell phones across U.S.

Oct 4, 2023, 9:11 AM | Updated: 12:56 pm

A screenshot of the test message that was send through the IPAWS system. (Screenshot/KSL NewsRadio)...

A screenshot of the test message that was send through the IPAWS system. (Screenshot/KSL NewsRadio)

(Screenshot/KSL NewsRadio)

WASHINGTON D.C. — On Oct. 4, 2023, FEMA and the FCC will test the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System [IPAWS.] The agencies said the IPAWS test will occur around 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time; 12:20 p.m. Mountain Time. 

Cell phones across the United States are expected to receive a notification that includes sound, vibrations, and text, according to Wade Matthews of the Utah Division of Emergency Management.

According to FEMA’s website, the IPAWS is meant to provide life-saving information to the public by transmission through mobile phones, televisions, and radios.  

Matthews said alerts are transmitted through the Wireless Emergency Alerts [WEA] and Emergency Alert Systems [EAS].

The systems allow FEMA, the states, and local governments [such as counties] to transmit messages through cellular providers. 

“There might be some small carriers that don’t have that installed but all the major carriers will have that,” said Matthews. 

Cellular towers will broadcast the message for 30 minutes. If you’re outside of cellular coverage and return while it is being broadcast, that is when you will receive it. 

Each cell phone will only receive the IPAWS test notification once, despite the 30-minute broadcasting period, according to Matthews. 

IPAWS use

Matthews said that FEMA gives power to the local level to broadcast alerts. In Utah, this means counties can choose when an alert will be sent out. 

This gives counties and states the ability to activate the WEA system for local and statewide emergencies. 

County employees must receive training before they are authorized to use the system.  According to Matthews, they also must apply for a memorandum of agreement, which states the types of messages they can send out. 

AMBER alerts are also sent out through the system, according to Matthews. Other instances in which states or counties might use the system are tornado warnings or reminding the public to take cover during earthquake aftershocks. 

The goal of the IPAWS test on a national level is to make sure everything is working. Matthews said it also will help increase awareness of the system so people respond during actual situations when it’s deployed. 

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FEMA to issue emergency test alert to cell phones across U.S.