If you live in the U.S., you’ve probably heard an Emergency Alert System test before…you know…the blaring squawks that sometimes emit from the TV or radio followed by “This is a test…”
The Emergency Alert System (which replaced the Emergency Broadcast System in 1997) is a tool used by the federal, state, and local governments to inform the public of urgent matters. Such events can range from national emergencies to tornado warnings to AMBER alerts. They are broadcasted to whatever the affected area may be. You may have likely heard one of these alerts at one time or another followed by key information, or you may have seen them sent to your phone from your cellular provider. Whether or not you have heard the EAS activated, you are probably familiar with the EAS test. These tests are mandatory drills that each broadcasting station must perform in order to remain in FCC compliance, and they are part of FEMA’s overall emergency communication plan.1
The EAS has three potential points of activation coordinating with the national, state, and local levels of government. Each level has an access point into the Emergency Alert System. These access points are predetermined radio or TV stations which have been selected due to their locations (in order to reach the most people,) their power levels, their infrastructures, and their ability to run on back-up emergency power sources. These access points get the information first. Other participating broadcast stations are required to constantly monitor those stations in order to receive and then pass along the same information if the need arises.
The national entry points are known as Primary Entry Point (PEP) stations. There are 77 PEP stations nationwide covering over 90% of the country’s population.2 These stations are contracted with FEMA to be the initial points of any national emergency messages. They are also the first broadcast sources of “Emergency Action Notifications” which originate directly from the White House. It is these stations which will be the first to transmit any emergency messages from the U.S. president if in time of need. As of the date of this post, a national activation of this system has never occurred.
The locations and call signs of each of the 77 PEP stations are displayed below. It is a good idea to be aware of which PEP station(s) serve your area.
Even though the EAS has never been activated on the national level, you are probably familiar with the EAS on a state or local level. The EAS has been activated on these levels in various locations numerous times, and they are used to give severe weather warnings, AMBER alerts, and other regional emergency messages. The state and local governments also have designated radio and TV stations which act as the first sources for state and local broadcasts just as the national level uses PEP stations. These are known as State Primary (SP) and Local Primary (LP) stations. Besides knowing which PEP station(s) are received in your area, it is wise to know which stations are designated as primary sources for your state and local levels as well. A quick web search should help you find those. In addition, another source that you can turn to for many of these emergency messages is your local National Weather Service channel.
Knowing which radio and TV stations that serve as primary entry points for emergency messages could be a beneficial part of your overall emergency communications plan. Information is essential in any emergency. However, just be aware that missteps with the EAS have occurred, and there have been several instances of false alarms (including hackers sending a message about a zombie attack in February 2013!)3 In any case, because timely information is vital in any emergency, knowing which stations to turn to first could be a helpful thing to know.
For more information, see https://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/ipaws/eas_best_practices_guide.pdf.