If you’ve always wanted a president to send you a phone message, this coming Thursday is your lucky day.
The presidential alert message — identified, naturally enough, as a “Presidential Alert” — will be issued on Thursday, September 20, 2018 to all U.S. cell phones. The message will be the first test of a new presidential-level direct alert capability for the National Wireless Emergency Alert System, which has been in operation since 2012.
Although users can opt out of natural disaster or missing children alerts under the regular system, no U.S.cell phone customer can opt out or otherwise block the presidential message.
The purpose of the system is to issue alerts rapidly in the case of grave emergencies, as determined by the president.
FEMA said in a statement the alerts can only be used for national emergencies. The president has sole responsibility for determining when the national-level alerts are used.
If for some reason the test can’t be performed on Thursday, it will be pushed back to October 3.
Interestingly, a number of reports on the upcoming test have left out the following information provided by Reuters:
Former President Barack Obama signed a law in 2016 requiring FEMA to create a system allowing the president to send cellphone alerts regarding public safety emergencies.
The Hill, for example, chose to include this commentary instead:
Despite Trump’s frequent use of Twitter as a method of communicating, experts told NBC News on Friday that Trump would not overuse the “Presidential Alert” system. …
University of California Los Angeles communications professor Tim Groeling told the network that broadcast-based emergency alerts “have remained professional and impartial over decades.”
Mashable has nearly 400 words on why Trump can’t screw this up or misuse the system. They aren’t necessarily reassuring; one of the points is that “hundreds of agencies” can already send these alerts. Considering how many times U.S. government agencies have been penetrated by cyber attacks, the likelihood of being victimized by abuse of the alert system seems much higher on that count than from any irrational fear of Trump.
But Mashable is emphatic on this head, at least:
[T]he system that would allow a presidential alert was established years before Trump took the Oval Office so this isn’t some sort of wild Trump scheme for world domination.
Mashable could have included the point that it was Obama who ordered the creation of the presidential capability, of course. That would be one option for discouraging the “Trump seeks world domination” theme.
It seems probable that everyone will get through this with nothing more to endure than an extra phone message on Thursday. Look for the following:
The test message, scheduled for 2:18 p.m. EDT on Thursday, will read: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”
Be safe out there.