Ill. officials give emergency alert test 'D'

November 9, 2011 4:54:36 PM PST
At 1 p.m. Wednesday, television and radio stations across the country carried the first ever nationwide test of the emergency alert system.

For just under a minute, TV and radio programs were interrupted with a message stating the drill is a test. It was similar to the monthly tests familiar to the public, except this was a coordinated effort by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Federal Communications Commission to find out whether the system will work should officials need to alert a large region of the U.S. to an emergency.

In some places, it worked. In others, it didn't.

Many of the reported failures affected cable and satellite TV subscribers. For instance, the test did not run on TV stations in the entire state of Oregon. In some areas, banners and stories previewing the test ran on CNN, ESPN and Fox News, but it never aired.

In Illinois, some viewers downstate didn't see the test, which earned a "D" from state officials.

"I believe technically it worked okay. From a quality audio standpoint, it was an abysmal failure. There's no way they could have given us any information or instructions at that audio quality level that we all heard, or in some places, we didn't hear audio not at all," said Wayne Miller, Ill. Emergency Communications Committee.

Both FEMA and the FCC will assess the outcome of the alert and issued this statement: "This initial test was the first time we have tested the reach and scope of this technology and what additional improvements that should be made to the system as we move forward. Only through comprehensively testing, analyzing, and improving these technologies can we ensure an effective and reliable national emergency alert and warning system."

The agencies are looking to improve the current technology to build a better alerting system. There was concern leading up to the test that viewers would be alarmed by the alert carried on both TV and radio. But the 911 center did not report an increased call volume.

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