When millions of Americans hear that warning at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday, the words will sound familiar, but the occasion will be historic. It will mark the first-ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, a system with Cold War roots that enables the president to address the American public within 10 minutes from any location at any time.
Although state and local communities regularly use the system to notify communities about tornadoes, child abductions and other events, all previous tests of the system have been local or regional, and involve the voluntary compliance of broadcasters. Wednesday’s test is the first national test featuring a live “presidential” alert code, which instructs TV and radio stations that the alert takes priority over all other programming.
“I think the biggest reason nobody ever tested it was because of all the concerns of what could happen and what could go wrong,” Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Craig Fugate told CNN Tuesday. “We take a different approach. If we don’t test it, we don’t know what we need to fix.”
Mike M. Ahlers for CNN.