Your phone will receive a 'presidential alert' test this week, and, no, you can't opt out of it — here's what you need to know

ShutterstockThe test is nationwide.
  • A new national emergency alert system will be tested nationwide on Wednesday.
  • Everyone in the United States with a compatible cell phone, television, or radio will receive a test message.
  • The message will be called a “presidential alert,” and users won’t be able to opt out.

On Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will be conducting a nationwide test of a new national alert system to warn the public of natural or man-made disasters.

During the test, everyone in the country with a compatible cell phone will receive an alert on their device. Test messages will also be played on televisions and radios across the United States.

According to FEMA, cell towers across the country will broadcast the test warning-message for about 30 minutes beginning at 2:18 p.m. EDT.

The test message will have a header the reads “Presidential Alert,” and the body of the message will say:

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

For the first time, individuals won’t be able to opt out of receiving these messages

This means that as long as your phone is switched on, you’re within range of a cell tower, and your carrier participates in the Wireless Emergency Alerts program, you should expect to receive a text.

FEMA will also be sending out radio and television test warnings on Wednesday that will be more explanatory and last about a minute. The warning will read:

THIS IS A TEST of the National Emergency Alert System. This system was developed by broadcast and cable operators in voluntary cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and local authorities to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency an official message would have followed the tone alert you heard at the start of this message. A similar wireless emergency alert test message has been sent to all cell phones nationwide. Some cell phones will receive the message; others will not. No action is required.

The new Integrated Public Alert and Warning System merges two existing warning methods: the Emergency Alerts System and Wireless Emergency Alerts system.

If the EAS system sounds familiar to you, it might be because it’s the same system that went awry back in January and sent a false warning message to Hawaii residents urging them to take shelter from an impending ballistic missile attack

A Federal Communications Commission investigation determined that the erroneous warning message issued to residents of Hawaii was the result of human error and a confusing system interface. FEMA explained that the upcoming test is meant to determine if the new IPAWS system needs improvements before officially launching.

Cell phones, smartphonesFlickr/ Joe FingasIf your cell phone carrier participates in the Wireless Emergency Alert system, you should receive a message.

Despite the test message being called a “presidential alert” and FEMA’s statement that the system “provides the President with the communications capability to address the nation,” the agency has noted that the IPAWS system will not be used for any purpose other than alerting the public of a national emergency.

This is backed up by a law passed by Congress in 2015 that prohibits a national warning system from being used “to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.”

This upcoming test was originally scheduled for September 20 but will now be held this Wednesday instead because of ongoing response efforts to Hurricane Florence.

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