At 2:18 pm ET on Wednesday, cell phones across the country buzzed with a Presidential Alert emergency test from President Donald Trump.
It was part of the first-ever national test of the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system, part of a pair of tests delivered by FEMA, that’s been buzzing phones on a regional basis for years, alerting customers mostly to severe weather and Amber alerts.
News of the test, which hit back in September, got some folks a little riled up because these alerts allow direct communication between the president and the nation in case of an emergency, like a natural disaster or terrorist attack.
While the alert was widely publicized, including by Trump himself, it still caught some by surprise, some were disappointed, and others weren’t too thrilled. Whether it’s to avoid giving Trump another megaphone or because, as one lawsuit claims, it’s government over-reach in a post-Snowden world, there was plenty of skepticism over the alert.
Well, now we know how The Purge will be announced.
— Buzz Andersen (@buzz) October 3, 2018
congrats to tiffany trump, who just received her first ever text from her dad!
— Johnny LaDeadnik 💀 (@jlazebnik) October 3, 2018
But for all the hand-wringing about whether President Trump would abuse the system a la his hyper-active Twitter account, it seems there’s actually very little to worry about here.
Hi there, this alert is not a text message. It will look like messages you get for AMBER alerts & weather. The Presidential Alert will only be used for national emergencies. The test is intended to assess the readiness of our nationwide alert systems.
— FEMA (@fema) October 1, 2018
For starters, there’s also a law in place, The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act of 2015, that expressly forbids POTUS to use the system “to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.”
It’s also highly unlikely that Trump won’t be the one issuing the alert. FEMA notes these alerts are issued “at the president’s direction” and will have to clear layers of protocol to be sent. Trump, after all, is infamous for his lack of computer use and there will be a far more complicated process for sending these alerts so as to avoid a repeat of the missile scare that hit Hawaii in January.
It’s also worth noting that these alert system pre-dates Trump: besides the aforementioned act being implemented under President Obama, the law that forbids customers from opting-out of Presidential alerts dates back to 2006 during the George W. Bush administration.
Still, it’s one more way for Trump to invade our lives (for now) and you’d be forgiven for heaving a big sigh at the thought.
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