Did the President just send an alert to my phone?

OKEECHOBEE — The question on everyone’s lips Wednesday afternoon, Oct. 3 was, “Did the President just send an alert to my phone?” The answer to that question is both yes and no. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the alert that went out is called a presidential alert because it will be used to send out presidential-level emergency messages nationwide.

In 1951, President Harry Truman established an emergency broadcast system called CONELRAD which stood for control of electromagnetic radiation. This allowed him to alert the public to war, threat of war, or any other grave national emergency using radio stations.

This system was replaced in 1963 by the Emergency Broadcast System. That system utilized both radio and television stations. Many of us remember the weekly tests of the Emergency Broadcast System. “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test. If this had been an actual emergency …”

In 1997, the Emergency Alert System replaced the Emergency Broadcast System. With the new system, not only could the President speak to the public within ten minutes about impending national threats, but they could also use it to alert the public about local weather such as hurricanes, flooding, or tornadoes.

In 2007, the Wireless Emergency Alerts System was established in order to quickly alert the public to such things as imminent weather conditions and missing children, and as we saw yesterday, presidential alerts. Normally you can opt-out of these alerts if you choose to do so, but you cannot opt-out of presidential alerts.

Yesterday’s alert had a header that read “Presidential alert,” and was followed by a text reading, “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

Okeechobee Emergency Management Director, Mitch Smeykal assures us that contrary to popular Facebook opinion, President Trump has not developed a nefarious plot to take over the world. This is simply a rehash of an old system. He went on to explain that many years ago the alert system was basically a set of mechanical switches which had to be flipped one after the other from coast to coast. If one switch was missed, an entire area of the country might miss the warning.

Mr. Smeykal stated that Okeechobee has a similar system in place called an Integrated Public Alert Warning System (PAWS). They use this system to warn of things like tornadoes or flooding. It will alert all cell phones within a set area, regardless of cell phone carrier. He said to keep in mind that after 911, the only type of communication that worked was text.

That is why they are utilizing this method. You cannot opt-out because when you get these alerts, it is very important that you take some sort of action.

In the event that we are ever under threat of nuclear attack, or there is an act of terrorism that we need to be made aware of and President Trump orders an alert, he would not be the one who actually sends it to your phone. It would come from FEMA because they are in control of the system. So, did he send an alert to your phone Wednesday? Yes, and no.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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