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National EAS system to be tested in Alaska Jan 6th
Published: 01/04/2010 10:28:00
PSAs notifying the public about the 2010 Alaska EAN test have been running on TV and radio.
PSAs notifying the public about the 2010 Alaska EAN test have been running on TV and radio. (AK HDHS&EM / ABA)

When the President of the United States actives the Emergency Alert System to address the nation in a movie, you know something big is happening. The system is real, and in use every day for smaller emergencies like severe weather and AMBER alerts; but a presidential activation has never happened, or even been tested ... until now.

The EAS system is designed to be very robust as a "last ditch" line of communication in a time of emergency. As such, it's very hard to test 100%. But the White House wants to know how well the system works, and the only way to be sure is with a "live" test - an activation as if it was a real alert with the real "EAN" (Emergency Action Notification) EAS code, instead of a test code.

In Alaska, in addition to regular tests, we test our EAS system twice annually with similar "live tests" of the Tsunami and AMBER alert codes. These codes are of particular concern to Alaska, and also can't be reliably tested with "dummy" codes that don't provide a 100% realistic simulation of how the system works.

Due to Alaska's geographic isolation - our TV and Radio signals don't reach other states - it's (theoretically) possible to activate the national EAN code in Alaska and prevent it from "spreading" and activating the rest of the country. However, the size of our state and rugged terrain also provides an excellent test of the ability of the EAS system to reach remote areas. Coupled with our experience with "live" tests; this makes Alaska a perfect location to test the national system on a smaller scale, before testing it with the whole country.

At about 10am, on Wednesday January 6th, the Alaska EAS system will be activated with the live EAN code from an Anchorage Radio station. This "live alert" will then, assuming all goes to plan, filter down the chain of broadcasters across the state. Unlike the 30-second live Tsunami & AMBER tests, the EAN test will last about 3 minutes as the activation procedures differ slightly. During the test, various messages may be heard from various sources as all the broadcasters in the state combine into one single channel of programming designed to reach everyone, everywhere, live.

A big part of the test will be analyzing how it all worked. The public is asked to provide feedback about their experiences with the test via a short feedback from online at: http://ready.alaska.gov/test

The test is a joint exercise involving federal, state & local organizations. The key players are the Alaska Broadcasters Association, the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and the State Emergency Communications Committee, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

http://ready.alaska.gov/test

By: Mikko Wilson - mikko@kath.tv