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The IPAWS National Test

IPAWS National Test of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and Emergency Alert System (EAS)

The National EAS and WEA test will be held on the backup date of October 3, 2018, beginning at 2:18 p.m. EDT.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will conduct a nationwide test of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) and Emergency Alert System (EAS) on the backup date of October 3, 2018 due to ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Florence. The WEA portion of the test commences at 2:18 p.m. EDT, and the EAS portion follows at 2:20 p.m. EDT. The test will assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether improvements are needed.

The WEA test message will be sent to cell phones that are connected to wireless providers participating in WEA. This is the fourth EAS nationwide test and the first national WEA test. Previous EAS national tests were conducted in November 2011, September 2016,  and September 2017 in collaboration with the FCC, broadcasters, and emergency management officials in recognition of FEMA’s National Preparedness Month.

Cell towers will broadcast the WEA test for approximately 30 minutes beginning at 2:18 p.m. EDT. During this time, WEA compatible cell phones that are switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA should be capable of receiving the test message. Some cell phones will not receive the test message, and cell phones should only receive the message once. The WEA test message will have a header that reads "Presidential Alert" and text that says:

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

The WEA system is used to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children, and other critical situations through alerts on cell phones. The national test will use the same special tone and vibration as with all WEA messages (i.e. Tornado Warning, AMBER Alert). Users cannot opt out of receiving the WEA test.

The EAS is a national public warning system that provides the President with the communications capability to address the nation during a national emergency. The test is made available to EAS participants (i.e., radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and wireline video providers) and is scheduled to last approximately one minute. The test message will be similar to regular monthly EAS test messages with which the public is familiar. The EAS message will include a reference to the WEA test:

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Emergency Alert System. This system was developed by broadcast and cable operators in voluntary cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and local authorities to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency an official message would have followed the tone alert you heard at the start of this message. A similar wireless emergency alert test message has been sent to all cell phones nationwide. Some cell phones will receive the message; others will not. No action is required.”

The EAS is based upon the War Powers Act provision of the Communications Act of 1934, which provides for Presidential access to commercial communications during “a state of public peril or disaster or other national emergency.”  For WEA, the Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act of 2006 provides that subscribers may opt out of receiving any wireless alerts “other than an alert issued by the President,” and that wireless alerting service should allow wireless subscribers the capability of opting out of receiving WEA alerts, other than an alert issued at the direction of the President and/or his/her designee.

The test was originally planned for September 20, 2018 but has been postponed until October 3, 2018 due to ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Florence.

Frequently Asked Questions About the IPAWS National Test

  1. What is the Emergency Alert System?

The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national public warning system that requires EAS Participants (i.e. radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers, and wireline video providers) to provide the President with the communications capability to address the nation during a national emergency. The system also may be used by state, local, tribal, and territorial authorities, in cooperation with EAS Participants, to deliver important emergency information, such as weather information, AMBER alerts, and local incident information targeted to specific areas.

FEMA, in partnership with the Federal Communications Commission and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is responsible for implementation, maintenance, and operations of the EAS at the federal level. The President has sole responsibility for determining when the national-level EAS will be activated. FEMA is responsible for national-level EAS, tests, and exercises.

    2. What is the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS)?

IPAWS is a national system for local alerting. It provides the means for disseminating authenticated emergency alert and warning messaging from emergency officials to the public through:

  • Radio and television via the Emergency Alert System (EAS);
  • Wireless phones via Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs);
  • NOAA All Hazards Weather Radio via IPAWS-NOAA gateway; and
  • Internet applications and websites via the IPAWS Alerts Feed.

The FEMA IPAWS Program is responsible for implementing a national public alert and warning system, ensuring that the President can send alert and warning messages to the public under all conditions, and enabling its use by federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial officials during local emergencies. Executive Order 13407 tasked the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to assign FEMA with developing, operating, integrating, and maintaining IPAWS, plus future connections alerting technologies.

    3. Why does the FEMA IPAWS Program conduct national tests of public alert and warning systems?

The IPAWS Modernization Act of 2015 (Public Law 114-143) requires the FEMA IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) to conduct, not less than once every three years, a nationwide EAS test of the public alert and warning system. The Act, which became law in April 2016, requires FEMA to help ensure that under all conditions the President can alert and warn the civilian population in areas endangered by natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters or threats to public safety.

The IPAWS PMO, in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission, tests the IPAWS’s emergency communications pathways — including the Emergency Alert System. The testing process is designed to evaluate the effectiveness of IPAWS Open Platform for Emergency Networks and assess the operational readiness of the infrastructure for distribution of a national message and determine whether technological improvements are needed. Testing will ensure an effective and reliable system exists to provide timely and accurate alerts to the public. After each test, an after-action report and improvement plan is created and incorporated into future testing to ensure continual advancement of alert and warning capabilities.

    4. Why is FEMA conducting a joint WEA and EAS test?

The nationwide WEA and EAS test will provide FEMA with valuable information on the effectiveness of WEA accompanying an EAS for a national Presidential alert. Nationwide EAS tests have been conducted the past two years. 2018 will be the first year for the nationwide test to include both EAS and WEA.  In the event of a national emergency and/or disaster, WEA is just one of several channels that will be used to warn the public and communicate what protective action to take. Successful alerting requires using multiple channels to ensure the largest portion of the public possible receives an alert. Testing allows FEMA to evaluate a portion of the nation’s alerting capabilities.

Nationwide EAS-WEA testing helps FEMA and industry participants to maintain and improve alert and warning capabilities at the federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial levels, together with testing the nationwide WEA capability for the first time.

    5. What are Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs)?

WEAs are emergency messages sent by authorized government alerting authorities through participating wireless providers. To date, WEAs have been issued for extreme weather and other threatening emergencies in your area, and AMBER alerts. Presidential Alerts are to be used during a national emergency, though none have been sent to date. This will be the first national WEA test. More information on WEA can be viewed online at https://www.fema.gov/frequently-asked-questions-wireless-emergency-alerts.

    6. What types of alerts are sent through WEA?

There are presently three categories of alerts sent through WEA: imminent threat alerts about threatening emergencies in an area including extreme weather, AMBER alerts, and Presidential alerts about emergencies of national consequence. Users may opt out of receiving alerts in the imminent threat and AMBER categories but cannot opt out of receiving Presidential alerts.

    7. What can I expect from the WEA test?

Most WEA-capable handsets will receive the alert within a few minutes of the start of the test. However, there are conditions where some handsets will not receive the alert, even if IPAWS, your wireless provider’s network, and your handset work as designed.

Handsets that receive an alert will initiate a special tone and vibration, both repeated twice. Consumers should receive a visual message if their phone is on silent. And while the wireless networks will repeat the broadcast of the test alert during a 30-minute period, your handset should only receive the alert once. The on screen message will read “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

The nationwide WEA test will use the same system that is used by state, local, territorial, and tribal authorities, and the National Weather Service to send alerts about local emergencies and AMBER alerts.

    8. When will I receive the WEA alert?

Most WEA-capable handsets should receive the WEA test message shortly after FEMA initiates the WEA portion of the test at 2:18 p.m. EDT on October 3. The test was originally planned for September 20 but was postponed due to ongoing reponse efforts to Hurricane Florence.

In order to receive the WEA test message, a handset must be WEA-capable, switched on and must be in the vicinity of and receiving service from a cell tower of a wireless provider that participates in WEA.

    9. What is the WEA test message that will appear on my cell phone or enabled mobile device?

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed”.

   10. How will I know the difference between a WEA and a regular text message?

WEA includes a special tone (some describe it as quite loud) and a vibration, both repeated twice. A distinctive WEA message dialog box also appears on the mobile device’s screen.

   11. Does a member of the public sign up for WEA alerts?

No, one of the significant benefits of WEA is there is no need for a person to have to sign up to receive a WEA alert. More than 100 providers, including the largest providers participate in the WEA program.

   12. Why can I not opt out of the Presidential Alert category on my cell phone?

The Communications Act of 1934 established the authority for the President to use certain private sector communications systems for priority communications, such as sending alert and warning messages to the public, during national emergencies. The implementation of this legislation is what enables the Emergency Alert System to be used by government authorities at all levels of government to send alert and warnings via private sector radio, television and cable stations in coordination with the private sector station owners. In 2006, The Warning, Alert, and Response Network (WARN) Act of 2006 prompted the Federal Communications Commission to adopt regulations enabling the wireless industry to participate in the distribution of public alerts and warnings also.  The WARN Act further established that the wireless alerting service may allow wireless subscribers the capability of opting out of receiving WEA alerts, other than an alert issued by the President.

   13. Why is a Presidential Alert being used for the WEA test?

The title “Presidential Alert” has its historical roots in the Emergency Alert System and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadcast System. The actual event code is Emergency Action Notification or EAN.

   14. Who would send a Presidential Alert?

In the event of a national emergency, a Presidential WEA alert would be issued at the direction of the President and/or his/her designee, and activated by FEMA.

   15. What other national WEA testing has taken place?

Although this is the first national WEA test, IPAWS conducts monthly WEA behind the scenes distribution tests.  IPAWS also conducts carrier link (connectivity) tests every two minutes 24/7 with each carrier connected to IPAWS. These tests help to ensure that the President, together with authorized state, local, territorial and tribal organizations can send WEA alerts through IPAWS.

   16. Why will some phones receive the alert and others will not?

Only WEA compatible cell phones that are switched on and within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA will be capable of receiving the test message.

   17. Will an international visitor to United States receive the WEA test message? 

Since WEA is based on global standards, some international visitors will be able to receive the WEA test alert. Others will not, depending on the capabilities of their handset.

   18. What language will the WEA test be in?

The WEA test will only be in English as WEA currently only supports messages in English at this time.

   19. What if a real-world event happens on test day?

In the event widespread severe weather or another significant event occurs on October 3, 2018, the test will be postponed.

   20. What are the benefits of testing?

The national tests assess IPAWS message delivery pathways, and encourage communication and strengthen relationships between the broadcast, wireless and emergency management communities. Ultimately, the information obtained from the tests increase awareness, understanding, and adoption of IPAWS by all partners and the public.

   21. What is FEMA doing to make the test message more accessible?

The IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) is exploring several initiatives to make national tests more widely accessible to those with access and functional needs, and limited English proficiency. The IPAWS PMO is working with all participants and stakeholders to identify and engage with public- and private-sector organizations with the capability to make emergency message dissemination more effective, inclusive, and resilient.

The FEMA IPAWS PMO continues to explore the capability to relay messages in additional languages. Testing efforts in 2015 marked the first time that IPAWS was used to deliver a National Periodic Test (NPT) to the EAS in both English and Spanish. Radio and TV EAS participants could broadcast the message in either Spanish, English or both to support the primary language of their typical audience. The FEMA IPAWS has the ability to provide emergency message content in multiple languages for connected private sector systems that ultimately deliver the messages to people.  EAS participants (radio and TV stations) and wireless providers participating in WEA comply with FCC rules for the accessibility of emergency messages.

The design of WEA’s Alert Tone and Vibration Cadence was designed to provide enhanced accessibility. Further enhancements to WEA coming in 2019 will allow for Spanish-language WEA alert messages.

   22. When was the most recent nationwide EAS Test?

Previous nationwide tests including only the EAS were held in November 2011, September 2016, and September 2017.  The September 2017 test revealed several successes, including:

•A majority of stations reported a clean, clear, and easily understandable audio message.
•Some stations broadcasting in Spanish were able to select and play the Spanish language version of the test message.
•Use of the National Periodic Test event code allowed the test to occur without alarming the public.
•The test elevated public awareness, providing important information on EAS within the landscape of public alert and warning.

   23. What other WEA tests have been conducted to date?

Some state and local alerting authorities have received waivers from the FCC to conduct WEA tests in their localities. The largest of these was the National Capital Region test in the Washington, D.C. metro area where 13 jurisdictions issued a test WEA on April 5, 2018.

   24. Will I be charged for the reception of this alert?

No, you will not be charged for this test alert, nor will you be charged for any EAS or WEA messages received.

   25. Will the test alert be used to gather my private data?

No, both EAS and WEA are broadcasts and do not collect any of your data. This test is strictly a test designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the nation’s emergency alerting capabilities.

   26. Does WEA know where I am?

No. WEA is not capable of tracking the location of anyone receiving a WEA alert.

   27. What other actions is IPAWS taking to address the findings from the last EAS test?

FEMA IPAWS is undertaking a series of efforts to address the findings from the September, 2017 test including:
•Engaging with EAS device manufacturers to reduce secondary and unanticipated EAS distribution system errors; and
•Engaging with state emergency management and State Emergency Communications Committees to improve alerting. Discussions do not include data contained in the ETRS due to privacy concerns.

The FCC is conducting outreach with EAS Participants to address technical issues uncovered by the 2017 test.

   28. Will I receive the WEA test message if I'm visiting an area where I don't live, or outside the area where my phone is registered?

Yes, if you have a WEA-capable phone and your wireless provider participates in the program (over 100 providers, including the largest providers, participate).

   29. Where can I provide feedback?

FEMA invites the public to send comments on the nationwide EAS-WEA test to FEMA-National-Test@fema.dhs.gov. Valuable information on the effectiveness of a national WEA capability using the Presidential alert category includes:

  • Whether your mobile device displayed one, more or no WEA test messages;
  • The make, model and operating system version of your mobile device;
  • Your wireless service provider;
  • Whether the device was turned on and in the same location for at least 30 minutes after the start of the test (2:18 p.m. ET);
  • The location of the device (as precise as possible), including the device’s environment (e.g. indoors or outdoors, rural or urban, mobile or stationary);
  • Whether you are normally able to make calls, receive texts, or use apps at that location;
  • Whether the mobile device was in use at the time of the alert (for a call or a data session); and
  • Whether anyone else at your location received the WEA test alert message.

 30. What other outreach and engagement activities can we expect before the next FEMA-administered EAS-WEA Test?

FEMA, in coordination with federal partners and EAS-WEA participants, will continue to provide timely updates through virtual roundtables, webinars, conferences, and other events.

Fact Sheet and PSA

The IPAWS Program Management Office (PMO) has created a Fact Sheet (in English and Spanish) for the 2018 National Test as it relates to the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). On the reverse side of the Fact Sheet are Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) selected from the list above. Please click here to view the Fact Sheet.

Additionally, a public service announcement with the FEMA Administrator, Brock Long, and a public service annoucement in American Sign Language (ASL) are available for use. The usage guidelines can be found here.

Still Have a Question? Contact Us About the IPAWS National Test

A dedicated mailbox has been created for all questions relating to the IPAWS National Test. Please e-mail us at FEMA-National-Test@fema.dhs.gov

Last Updated: 
10/03/2018 - 13:01