There was another national-level test of the EAS -- the modern synthetic replacement for the old-fashioned Emergency Broadcast System -- yesterday and it appears this will be a yearly thing.
For decades, the FCC had been assuring various Federal civil-emergency agencies (of late, FEMA) that EBS and then EAS was absolutely spiffing, all worked out, set up and ready to go, yessirree Bob! --Then several years ago when worried FEMA staffers, I'm told mostly the nuts-and-bolts type who have to make things work rather than bureaucrats, insisted on trying it, it failed pretty miserably. A low-bidder system used to send spoken messages from the Feds to the very first level of big radio stations conked out and a big chunk of the nation heard a mumbling garble instead of "...This is only a test...."
Since then, the system has been cleaned up, augmented by an all-new Internet-based emergency message collection/distribution system, and generally revamped under the (respectively) watchful and worried eyes of FEMA and the FCC. Last year's test wasn't too bad and this year?
This year, it mostly worked. The magic black boxes at "broadcast stations in your area" grab the first tagged message they get from whatever source and file any later duplicates. Stations that received the Internet-delivered version had pretty good audio quality; stations that got the station-to-station-to-station relay first had, in large part, adequate fidelity.* A few, out at the end of long chains of pass-it-on, didn't fare quite so well. Along with the audible message, TV stations and cable/satellite systems send a text "crawl" over the picture with content delivered over the same system and those came through just fine.
So, for whatever its worth, had it been an Actual Emergency, you would have got the message -- and there's a whole other part of the system that pushes alerts to mobile phones that has yet to get a national-level test but is already in use for localized bad weather and "Amber Alerts" for children in imminent danger. Five years ago, neither of those would have been true -- but thanks to a handful of people at FEMA who wanted to make sure, it's working.
* In order to get the most reach from the fewest Primary Entry Points, national EAS messages begin on a few dozen powerful AM stations, who receive it from an Undisclosed Location (usually Mt. Weather but I'm sure that's only one of several possibilities) near Washington, D.C. via, ahem, "secure means." In Indianapolis, the state primaries listen to signals from Cincinnati and some muddiness and static is normal: it's quite a distance and their receiving locations are all right by busy highways. The station-to-station part of EAS is, however, fast, and that path beat the Internet-delivered one to Indy by about a minute. So that's what people here heard.
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