Whenever you recieve an alert on your television, radio, or even specially built radios, it is because of the Emergency Alert System! In this page, you will learn the basics of how this system works, why it exists, and how it works to keep you safe in the event of an emergency
A Brief History
The United States first developed CONELRAD in 1951, also known as Control of Electromagnetic Radiation was the first national alerting system during the cold war.
12 years later, in 1963, the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) replaced CONELRAD. The EBS introduced local alerting for emergencies and severe weather alerts.
In 1997, the current system as we know it today was implemented. It uses specific area message encoding (SAME), which allows alerts to go to specific geographical regions.
Why the EAS?
The EAS was developed as a method for the President of the United States to give a message to the nation within 10 minutes, in the event of a national-scale emergency.
It is also used to give severe weather warnings, as well as local emergency messages. The random sounds you hear at the beginning are called headers, and are actually a type of computer code.
It tells a unit at a radio or television station what type of alert it is, who issued it, who is impacted, and how long it will last for.
Why is the EAS so scary?
The EAS is quite scary the first time someone sees or listens to it, especially when someone does not expect it. The tones you hear at the beginning of a message may seem scary to some, because of the sound of the headers.
On televisions, the Character Generator (CG) may come off as scary since they usually will cut-in to programming, and show a very basic screen showing who issued the alert, along with what the alert is.
Another part that can be scary, and also close to the sound of alerts on a phone is the Attention Tone, which is meant to grab your attention..
TL;DR: It is engineered to be scary, to grab the attention of the listener
Why do I get EAS alerts?
You may experience EAS alerts for any number of reasons, roughly 80 of them, in fact. The most common reason to get an EAS alert is due to weather events, and tests, as those alerts are responsible for a rather significant chunk of alerts sent.
There are 3 main types of tests, Monthly Tests, Weekly Tests, and National Tests.
As the names suggest, there is one monthly test every month, one weekly test every week, and usually one national test every year (sometimes there is no national test).
Civil alerts are also another type of common alert. These alerts are usually issued by local authorities in response to certain situations (AMBER Alert, Missing Person, Local Emergency, etc.)
What about the alerts on my phone?
While alerts can go on both radio/television and your phone, they are actually two different systems!
The alerts on your phone are powered by Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). This system is part of the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS). These alerts can be sent by all of the same people as EAS, but can be targeted to just phones.
IPAWS allows an emergency alert to go to either EAS, WEA, or both!
EAS around the world.
Most countries have some sort of emergency alert system meant to warn the public of important information.
Countries like Canada, and Mexico actually utilize SAME for some alerts, just like the United States!
Canada uses the same EAS protocol, but only for Weatherradio Canada, sending alerts that can activate special receivers to warn users of impending weather events. for alerts outside of Weatherradio Canada (such as TV/Radio), the National Public Alert System (NPAS) is used.
Mexico uses it for an entirely different purpose, to activate warning sirens to signal an impending earthquake! This system is called SASMEX.