Presidential alert test sent by FEMA; new national system lets presidents send notifications to your phone

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018
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Presidential Alert: System test sent to phones nationwide. Walter Perez reports during Action News at 4:30pm on October 3, 2018.

WASHINGTON -- This is why you may have gotten a notification from the White House on Wednesday.

The government tested a new national alert system that would let presidents send out emergency messages to phones all over the country.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission sent the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and the Emergency Alert System (EAS) on Wednesday, Oct. 3.

The WEA test alert was sent to cell phones connected to participating wireless providers at 2:18 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, FEMA officials said. The message said:

"Presidential Alert: THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."

While not everyone received the message, phones that did should only have received it once, with a special tone and vibration that people will recognize, FEMA said.

The WEA system is currently used to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children and other critical situations. The president would be able to use this system to send alerts if there is a "public peril" that would require nationwide notification, like if there were a risk of an imminent attack or multiple terrorist attacks, according to FEMA.

When used, the presidential alert would be followed by state or local instructions. While people can opt out of Amber Alerts and other alert messages, the public will not be able to opt out of presidential alerts.

The EAS portion of the test was sent to participating broadcast entities at 2:20 p.m. EDT.

The test was performed to see if there are any improvements that need to be made to the way these presidential alerts would be distributed in the future. It was originally scheduled for Sept. 20, but was pushed to Oct. 3 due to Hurricane Florence.