November 8, 2011
For 30 seconds Wednesday afternoon, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will conduct the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, also known as E-A-S.
Talk shows, soap operas and every other TV and radio program across the nation will all be interrupted at exactly 2pm eastern time.
"In the past, if you heard it on one station you could change the channel and listen to something else. Now if you change the channel, it will be on that channel as well,” explained Rear Adm. (Ret.) James Barnett, Chief of Public Safety and Homeland Security with the FCC.
EAS is designed to quickly alert Americans about a national emergency, like a nuclear attack, major power grid failure or catastrophic storm. The system acts as a backbone if nothing else works, says Barnett.
The EAS is a modern day version of the old emergency broadcast system, designed to protect Americans from missiles strikes during the cold war.
"Depending on the nature of the emergency we want as many people to know about it as quickly as possible so that they can begin to take the appropriate actions to keep themselves, their families, their businesses safe," said Deputy Chief Britt Grimm of the Charlottesville Fire Department.
The new system has never been used on a national scale, but the government says this test is important to ensure it will work in the event of an emergency.