Emergency warnings on TV

If there were an emminent national catastrophe, like an airstrike from another country, would alerts or warnings be broadcast on the cable networks? Or would the poor sods watching the Food Network and History Channel be hosed?

Also: If nuclear warheads were heading our way, what the heck would the warnings say? “Sorry to interrupt the program you’re enjoying, but WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!” I’m sure they have scripts for just about any situation. People would need to evacuate or take cover, not go nuts and start running into the streets. I’d like to know how the warnings would convey the urgency and ask people to remain calm at the same time.

I don’t know the answer to your question but I was once told on a field trip to a firehouse that along with special way to sound the siren for a torando, they could also use it with a different sound pattern for an accident at a nuclear power plant or a nuclear attack.

But they could have been making that up.

Not made up.

We have tornado siren testing here on the first Wednesday of every month (I think), and they do one sound and then the other. I haven’t been paying attention lately, so I couldn’t really tell you which one’s which, but I guess if you hear when the sky’s clear and blue, you’d know which is which.

Here are the offical FCC handbooks for Radio, TV, and Cable providers regarding the Emergency Alert System (EAS).


There are some sample messages and other information you might find interesting.

Don’t know the answer to the second part of your question, but when we have a storm warning, the cable channels periodically blank out and say something like “there is a warning somewhere in the area, please tune to channel fifteen for further information.” I think there’s audio to go along, but I can’t remember.

Cable systems (not cable networks) are required to transmit Presidential alerts over the Emergency Action System. They are not required to transmit state-level alerts or weather warnings.

As for the actual script – many years ago when I was a young radio dj working an overnight shift, I got bored one night and listened to the real emergency tape (not the ordinary “this is a test”). After declaring that “this is not a test” it said to stand by for further information. . .

I don’t know what level of authority has the further information.

According to the AM & FM manual at the FCC’s website (cited above), the President has the authority at the national level. There are other emergency-management personnel at the state and local levels. Also, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determines weather-related information. In my area, the NOAA weather information service is mechanical and not human; I don’t know exactly how they do that.

At my station, the EAS operations are largely automatic. The EAS encoder detects messages and sends them over the air. When it is triggered, it prints out a description of what came over, at what time, and where it was re-transmitted. The Chief Operator then logs this in our FCC logs. It has been triggered once or twice this summer for severe weather. These also give us the opportunity to jump onto the NOAA website and find out more specific information about what’s going on so we can update our listeners periodically.

Basically, the EAS is a tree-sorta thing. Some stations are designated primary stations; these send information down the pike to other stations, who then send messages on to still other stations, until the entire system has been activated.

There was a Staff Report on the EAS.


As an interesting aside, the current alert system may be on the verge of becoming obsolete or requiring a major overhaul. I have a TIVO, which means that most of the time I’m not watching television in real, or even near real, time. Several times I’ve seen thunderstorm or tornado warnings scrolling across the bottom of the screen, started to get up to look out a window, then realized that they were talking about a storm from a night or two ago. As more and more people start using TIVO, other DVRs, video-on-demand, etc. less and less people will receive the warnings at a time when they’re relevant. Fixing this would require that the vidoe hardware be modified so that it receives (either by cable or airwave) and displays the alert in realtime regardless of what is currently being watched.

Thanks for all the input, guys.

I couldn’t remember the name of the EAS in my search on google. Strange- you hear the test on the radio often enough that you just ignore it or turn down the volume till it’s over. I wouldn’t be shocked if I assumed one day that a real alert is “only a test.” :smack:

You’d find out about it on the straight dope. First, Tom Ridge would raise the Terror Alert to Red. Then, someone would pit him for his political motivation…


So tell us…

How many times did you check the board to make sure that you were not going to broadcast that tape over the air when you played it? :stuck_out_tongue:

(Imagine the chaos if you did…)

Well, I heard about the planes crashing into the WTC on the radio.

Then I turned on the tv.

Then my sister called, then I called my husband. Co-workers were huddled around tvs.

There was a whole long thread about it on SDMB.

Then, several of the cable networks went off the air, telling you to tune into a news station.

So, I think in a real national emergency, you’ll find out about it one way or the other.

Nah. They’re different enough that you’d be able to tell the difference. A real alert is a bit longer. EAS tests are, at most, maybe a minute or two. An EAS alert is longer than that.


I was watching News Radio one morning between 11 and noon and got a phone call from one of my friends freaking out about ‘all this shit’, and I had no idea what he was talking about until I changed the channel. It was September 11th 2001. I was somewhat surpirsed that there was no mention whatsoever of what was going on, and I had been flipping between Bravo (I think thats what was showing NewsRadio at the time) and Comedy Channel for nearly an hour. So in my case, even though I wasn’t in danger (I live in Wisconsin), I was completely unaware of the drama being played out in NYC.

Off-topic, but isn’t that EAS logo cool, in a 1950s sci-fi horror kind of way?

:cool: <-- thermonuclear protection

Au contraire- AFAIC, compared to everything else that’s played way more than “often enough”, the EAS attention signal is one of the better things I’ve heard, even if only for something different. Crank it up, dude!

I’ve got a Moxi-box (a Tivo competitor from my Charter cable company), and as in the past, warnings will interrupt programming on cable channels.

That’s not all, when watching something recorded on the box, a real-time warning will stop the recording we’re watching and display the warning. Since it’s replaced our use of the VCR, that’s a good thing during tornado season.

I have heard the announcement when there was an actual tornado warning. It might not exactly pertain to what you’re asking, but I found it sort of shocking:

“This is not a test. Take cover now to save your life.”

That was pretty convincing. This was the result: http://ww2010.atmos.uiuc.edu/(Gh)/arch/cases/960419/dmg/home.rxml

There was no national EAS alert on 9/11. On my cable system, at least, all the cable channels eventually either suspended progamming or carried news coverage, but not all of them did so immediately. When the Columbia shuttle went down, a number of cable networks didn’t even run a crawl across the screen.

My local cable tv provider, the not-so-local Comcast, will flip whatever channel I’m watching to the Weather Channel for all weather emergencies.

I still don’t understand why the long beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep before an alert from the EBS is needed and needs to be tested on TV. When 9/11 was happening I don’t recall ever seeing the beep and I would think that would rank up there as a beepable day.