The FCC announced today that it’ll bolster the country’s Emergency Alert System to prevent unexpected false alarms, like the one that happened in Hawaii earlier this year. State and local officials will now be able to conduct “live code” tests that’ll use the same alert codes and processes that would be required in an actual emergency. The idea is that officials will better learn the system while the public will get used to responding to alerts and know what to expect. Everyone in the area will get a test message, like a real alert.
The agency also says that public service announcements about the Emergency Alert System will now be able to use the same alert sounds as an actual emergency. (The alerts will include a disclaimer about what’s happening, and officials will have to actually tell people beforehand.) Finally, anyone who uses the emergency system will be required to tell the FCC if it accidentally triggers a false alert.
Overall, it seems like the agency wants to get people used to alerts so they know what to expect. It also wants to have a plan in place in the event that a false alert is sent out. The agency does note, however, that alert fatigue is real, and too many practice runs could blunt the effectiveness of a real test. It says “careful test planning” should prevent this.
The biggest issue in Hawaii — aside from the fact that an alert went out claiming that a ballistic missile was heading toward the state — was that people had no idea whether it was legitimate or not. It took 38 minutes for state officials to issue a correction. Hopefully these new training procedures make things clearer and prevent a similar situation from happening again.