Electronic devices sounded off across the United States on October 3, 2018, as the Federal Emergency Management agency conducted an emergency alert test. The tone sounded at 2:18 p.m. EDT. The subject read: “Presidential Alert” and text read: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
The alert interrupted the Atlantic Festival in Washington, D.C. just as celebrity chef Jose Andres was talking to the crowd. “The President is interrupting my talk,” Andres joked.
The message was broadcast on cell towers for 30 minutes. Some people got the alert multiple times. Others didn’t get it at all.
FEMA officials estimated that about 225 million devices would receive the alert at about the same time, but the message was broadcast by cell towers for 30 minutes so some people got it later than others.
Some got as many as four alerts on their phones; others didn’t get any.
In a real emergency, devices would get the alert at the same time or as close to the same time as possible.
Officials estimated it would reach about 75 percent of all mobile phones in the country, including phones on all of the major carriers.
The wireless alert system was launched in 2012. While users can opt out of messages on missing children and natural disasters, they can’t opt out of the presidential alerts, which are issued at the direction of the White House and activated by FEMA.