It’s important to know the test is coming so that you don’t panic when it’s conducted. Earlier this year, many Floridians were startled awake when a test emergency alert was sent to their phones at 4:45 a.m. local time — though the test was only intended to be broadcast to televisions.
An even scarier incident infamously occurred in 2018, when a false warning of an incoming ballistic missile was sent to the citizens of Hawaii. Nobody was warned of the test because it wasn’t actually a test — someone at the emergency operation center evidently pushed the wrong button (and was eventually fired for their mistake).
In addition to false alarms or poor timing, FEMA officials have warned that the software used for the Emergency Alerts System could potentially be vulnerable to hackers, who could send out false alarms, among other things. While there’s currently no evidence of this, FEMA recommends keeping the software updated on mobile phones, TVs, and other devices to better keep malicious hackers out of the system.
After all, the purpose of the EAS, WEA, and nationwide tests of both is to better prepare the public in the event of a real emergency, minimizing confusion and maximizing the dissemination of information. “The purpose of the Oct. 4 test is to ensure that the systems continue to be effective means of warning the public about emergencies, particularly those on the national level,” said FEMA in an official statement.