What To Expect From the National Emergency Phone Test (and How To Block It)

If your phone alarms later today, here's why it's happening - and how to stop it.

Electronic devices across the US, including most cell phones, are set to alarm today as part of a nationwide test of the government’s Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) capabilities. Here’s what you really need to know about the tests, including what time to expect them.

The EAS and WEA are federal alert protocols designed to be able to quickly send out information to the public in the event of a national emergency. Today’s tests are being carried out by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in conjunction with the FCC with a scheduled start time of 2.20pm ET.

Both sets of alerts will be sent out at the same time. The EAS portion will send out emergency messaging to TVs and radio stations, while the WEA will be responsible for the cell phone test side of things. Now, let’s take a look at when you can expect to see the emergency alerts broadcast across the country.

What Time is Today’s Emergency Cell Phone Test?

Later today, the government is testing its federal emergency alert systems and sending out notifications to TVs, radio stations, and cell phones. The start time is being synchronized to 2.20pm ET, which means you can expect to see the alerts at the following times around the country:

  • 2:20pm Eastern Time / Atlantic Standard Time (Puerto Pico)
  • 1:20pm Central Time
  • 12:20pm Mountain Time
  • 11:20am Pacific Time
  • 10:20am Alaska Time (covering most of Alaska)
  • 8:20am Hawaiian Time

In a press release announcing the tests, FEMA noted that today’s alerts will mark the seventh round of testing of the Emergency Alert Systems (TVs and radios) and the third nationwide test of Wireless Emergency Alerts — although only the second intended to go out to all cell phones across the country.

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What To Expect in Today’s Cell Phone Test

According to the FEMA press release, today’s cell phone tests will see devices receive a “unique code and vibration” at the designated time, along with a message that automatically displays in either English or Spanish, depending on your handset’s language settings.

The alert message will read: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

The cell phone test window is approximately 30 minutes from the synchronized start time of 2:20pm ET, so all messages should have been sent out by 2:50pm ET. For TVs and radios, a similar message will be broadcast for one minute

How To Block the October 4th Cell Phone Test

There are plenty of reasons why you might not want to get an emergency alert on your phone today. Fortunately, it couldn’t be easier to block.

The method is simple: just turn off your phone or put it on airplane for 30 minutes around the test time. This is the only way you can block the emergency alert , as the WEA system overrides any individual “emergency notification” settings you might be able to turn off on your device.

FEMA confirms: “If a phone is off before the test alert is sent and not turned back on until after the WEA Test expires (approximately 30 minutes), the phone should not get the test message.”

One group being specifically urged to turn off their phones today is domestic abuse victims. The National Network to End Domestic Violence is advising that anyone who has a hidden phone in such circumstances turn off their device for the day, as the national alerts could alert the abuser of the phone’s existence.

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Written by:
James Laird is a technology journalist with 10+ years experience working on some of the world's biggest websites. These include TechRadar, Trusted Reviews, Lifehacker, Gizmodo and The Sun, as well as industry-specific titles such as ITProPortal. His particular areas of interest and expertise are cyber security, VPNs and general hardware.
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