A nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System is scheduled for 10:20 a.m. Wednesday morning, August 11 in Alaska.
In addition to the conventional test messages delivered over television and radio stations — including KCAW — many people will receive the test on their phones, thanks to a relatively new technology called “Wireless Emergency Alerts” — or WEA.
Whether someone receives a WEA (“wee-ah”) may depend on how new the technology is in their pocket.
Jeremy Zidek is with the state Division of Homeland Security.
“Here in Alaska we do have a lot of these older systems, especially in our smaller communities, that are sufficient for the needs of the population,” he said, “but they don’t have the capability to send the WEA messages.”
WEA does work in Sitka, however, as demonstrated in January of 2018 when many were awakened by a loud tone on their phones, accompanied by an emergency message that arrived prior to any other warning — either on radio, tv, or the community’s tsunami sirens.
At the time, only AT&T customers in Sitka received the message, as GCI didn’t join the system until October of that year.
Zidek says that WEA is constantly being refined and improved, but it shouldn’t be the only thing Alaskans depend on in an emergency.
“It’s one of the ways we warn people, but it’s not the only way people are alerted,” he said. “So whether it’s a Wireless Emergency Alert, an EAS (Emergency Alert System) message, a local government turning on the sirens, or really just the shaking of the ground itself — those are all warning signs that you may have to take some action.”
A national Wireless Emergency Alert system test takes place only once around this time of year, and is coordinated through the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “Integrated Public Alert and Warning System,” or IPAWS. But in Alaska, the regional system is activated more often than that. Two weeks ago (7-28-21), there was a huge undersea earthquake near Chignik, on the Alaska Peninsula.
“And so people in Kodiak and other areas who were able to receive the messages through cell phones — did,” said Zidek.
To receive a Wireless Emergency Alert — obviously — you have to be somewhere with cell service. You also have to configure your iPhone or Android device to receive alerts (see an example of the Samsung alert menu).
If you don’t have cell service, and you’re hearing this report on the radio now, then you should also hear a traditional Emergency Alert System test on your radio at 10:20 a.m. on Wednesday. TV viewers should see the alert at the same time.