First Nationwide Public Warning Test Induces Widespread Panic

At precisely 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday, November 9th, FEMA will conduct the first ever test of a Presidential Emergency Alert System — a nationwide public warning system that, according to the FCC, "requires broadcasters, cable television systems, wireless cable systems, satellite digital audio radio service providers, and direct broadcast satellite providers to provide the communications capability to the President to address the American public during a national emergency." Yikes. The original test was planned to run over three minutes — much longer than the ear-piercing localized tests you're already used to — but the test has been reduced to 30 seconds after many jittery people made a stink. Why?

For starters, the system, which works in a daisy-chain fashion through 550 districts, offers no standardized message. From the FEMA announcement:

The audio message will be the same for all EAS Participants; however, due to limitations in the EAS, the video test message scroll may not be the same or indicate that "This is a test." This is due to the use of a "live" national code – the same code that would be used in an actual emergency. In addition, the background image that appears on video screens during an alert may indicate that "This is a test," but in some instances there might not be an image at all.

So three minutes of dead air smack dab in the middle of grandma's stories might indeed be cause for alarm. But then there's the bigger question: The "why" of it all. Why now? What's the president got to tell us that's so important it can't wait for the next time he sits down with Jay Leno? Have we yet to be informed of some fiery, new terror-alert color we should be coordinating our winter wardrobes with? Or, perhaps, could an aircraft carrier-sized asteroid be whizzing by our planet somewhere on or around November 8th, with even the tiniest degree of miscalculation meaning the difference between life as we know it and a giant crater when Cleveland once stood? We'll just have to wait and see! [FEMA]