Emergency alert test scheduled for Wednesday

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Alerts like the one shown here are set to pop up on cell phones Wednesday afternoon during a nationwide alert system test. The test is set to start at 1:18 p.m. and will mimic a ÒPresidential AlertÓ while announcing that it is just a test of the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system.

With natural disasters, child abductions and other emergencies a reality across the state and country, federal agencies will test two alert systems nationwide Wednesday afternoon.

The Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system test alert will be sent to cell phones at 1:18 p.m., followed by an Emergency Management System (EAS) message at 1:20 p.m., according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Marshall County Emergency Management coordinator Kim Elder said the emergency alerts are necessary.

The WEA test alert will go out to all cell phones with participating carriers and will mimic a “Presidential Alert” Wednesday. The accompanying text will make clear that the alert is only a test and not cause for action.

Along with the Presidential Alert, the WEA is responsible for sending out AMBER Alerts when a child is abducted or when there is extreme weather in a given area.

Elder said all of those alerts are important when there is an emergency.

“I know a lot of people get a little frustrated with getting the AMBER Alerts at 2 in the morning,” she said. “A lot of people are able to disable that on their phones … but I recommend people don’t do that — (officials) try not to over-use the system, so that when it does go off, you know it’s an emergency.”

The EAS alert will be sent to radio and television broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and television providers and wireline video providers, according to FEMA. It will appear like regular monthly EAS test messages, including a distinct noise tone followed by a message regarding the test.

This will be the first ever nationwide test of the WEA system and is meant to ensure it would be effective in case of a real emergency. The EAS has had tests like these in recent years.

Many Marshalltown and Marshall County residents are familiar with the cell phone alerts. Along with the occasional AMBER Alert, Elder said the WEA and its state-level counterpart the Wireless Emergency Network (WEN) also sent out messages during the July 19 tornadoes in several counties.

“I’m sure it helped … we didn’t have a true warning for the specific tornado that hit downtown Marshalltown and worked it’s way through Marshalltown. We didn’t get a warning for that until it was an active tornado,” Elder said.

She said the warning for that specific tornado came via stormspotters reporting to the National Weather Service, who then saw that the appropriate tornado sirens went off in the area.

Elder said central Iowans were alerted of general tornado threats the afternoon of July 19 in part via the cell phone alerts.

The tests were originally set to take place Sept. 20, but the situation with Hurricane Florence in the southeastern United States caused the tests to be delayed until Wednesday.

The tests will be performed jointly by FEMA and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Wednesday afternoon. For more information on the tests, visit https://www.fema.gov/emergency-alert-test

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Contact Adam Sodders at

(641) 753-6611 or asodders@timesrepublican.com