The Federal Emergency Management Agency is testing a new “presidential alert” system nationwide for the first time next week that will make it possible for Donald Trump to directly message nearly everyone in the nation who has a cell phone.
Officials insisted that the system cannot be used for political purposes. FEMA also assured people that it can’t track cell phone users’ locations through the alert system.
No one with a cell phone can opt out of presidential alerts.
The Wireless Emergency Alert system message test is being carried out by FEMA in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission, FEMA said in a statement posted on its website Thursday.
In the test next week everyone will receive a message that will look like a text and will be headed “Presidential Alert,” said FEMA.
Users whose service providers participate in the test, whose phones are on and within range of a cell phone tower will first hear a tone and vibration — twice. Everyone will then receive this message in English: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
More than 100 mobile carriers are participating in the test at 2:18 p.m. Eastern times on Thursday September 20.
The system is the latest generation of warnings at a time when more people are typically linked at any one time to their cell phones than radios or TVs. Emergency alerts will also continue to be available on NOAA Weather Radio, news broadcasts, the Emergency Alert System on radio and TV programs and via outdoor sirens.
Two minutes after the WEA tests, FEMA will also test nationwide warnings of the Emergency Alert System, which is similar to the older Emergency Broadcast System and sends alerts via radio and television.
The 2015 law authorizing the WEA system allows warnings to be sent only in times of “natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety,” NBC News noted.
“If you separate this from the politics and personality of any individual president, then this is a great idea and an amazing use of technology to reach everybody if they’re in harms way,” Karen North, director of the Annenberg Digital Social Media program at the University of Southern California, told NBC.