Next week Montgomery County residents should expect an alert from the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. The alert will include a loud warning signal and text notification on cell phones and other mobile devices throughout the Metropolitan Washington D.C. region.
About 20 Washington-area communities, including Montgomery County, will take part in a test of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System between 10:00 am and 11:00 am on Thursday, April 5. The communities will issue simultaneously a test message through the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system, which allows government and public safety officials to send emergency information to a specific area. The messages are received on an individual’s cell phone or other mobile device.
Within Montgomery County the message will be: “A test of the Montgomery County Wireless Emergency Alerts System. No action required.” The alert will trigger a loud (somewhat annoying) noise and will cause the receiving device to vibrate. Both the loud audio signal and vibration will be repeated twice, while displaying the text-like message on cell phones and mobile devices.
If a real-world event impacts the planned WEA test on Thursday, April 5, the back-up test date is Monday, April 9, between 10:00 am and 11:00 am.
This will be the first live regional test using WEA’s geo-target capabilities and is expected to reach 5.2 million people. The WEA system should not be confused with the local “Alert Montgomery” or other emergency alert programs in jurisdictions within Montgomery County, or used in other metro-area jurisdictions. The local programs are separate from this national system.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched WEA nationally in 2012. It has been used more than 33,000 times across the country to warn the public about dangerous weather, missing children, and other critical situations – all through alerts on WEA-enabled cell phones and other enabled wireless devices. Most types of phones are WEA-enabled, an older “Flip Phone” might not be. The public does not sign up or register for WEA, and there is no fee for the service.
Jurisdictions participating in the exercise will draw a geo-targeted map in their WEA system. Cell phones or mobile devices located outside, but near, the participating jurisdictions may receive the WEA test because this technology uses carrier towers. Individuals who are travelling through several jurisdictions during the testing period will receive alerts from each jurisdiction they enter. Individuals visiting the Washington metropolitan-area during testing will also receive the alerts.
Montgomery County, Gaithersburg, Rockville and Takoma Park are participating in the WEA testing, as well as communities around the D.C. region in Maryland and Virginia.
The WEA system allows government and public safety officials to target emergency public safety information and imminent threats to safety to a specific geographic area. It uses a loud warning sound and text-like messages on an individual’s WEA-enabled cell phone or other enabled mobile device. The WEA system allows the messaging to be more targeted and efficient, which is critical during an emergency.
Periodic testing of public alerts and warning systems helps local governments assess the system and identify any needed improvements. The test ensures that Public safety officials have reliable methods and systems that will deliver urgent alerts and warnings to the public during an emergency or disaster.