This is why your phone alarm went off Wednesday morning

Oct 4, 2023, 12:45 PM | Updated: 1:16 pm


(Photo courtesy of FEMA)

(Photo courtesy of FEMA)

“This is a test. This is only a test.”

You will hear these words twice this month, with the first time being Wednesday at about 11:20 a.m.

A nationwide broadcast of the National Emergency Alert Test will be conducted by FEMA and the Federal Communications Committee (FCC), with a backup date of Oct. 11 at the same time in case there is a significant emergency somewhere in the nation.

The other test of emergency notification systems will be Oct. 19 at 10:19 a.m. PT for the annual Great Shakeout earthquake drill.

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The test Wednesday involved the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) that sound and appear on smartphones.

The EAS side of this test will be aired by TV and radio broadcasters, cable systems, satellite radio and TV providers, and on the National Weather Service’s NOAA Weather Radio network. The WEA version of this test was directed to all wireless phone providers and received on cell phones. If your cell phone did not receive this test, contact your wireless provider. Keep in mind only cell phones that are turned off or set to airplane mode will fail to receive this test.

The test Wednesday exercises the national warning system — used only if there is a nationwide emergency and Americans can be rapidly informed. The test helps determine if there are any gaps in the warning system so they can be addressed before a real emergency arises. These tests go back to the Cold War era in the 1950s. Last year’s National Emergency Alert Test was postponed to this year.

The Great Shakeout is coming later this month

Oct. 19, is the worldwide Great Shakeout earthquake drill. This test of EAS and WEA starts at 10:19 a.m. PT with the goal to help save lives from an earthquake by practicing drop, cover and hold under a desk, table or other sturdy items together as a group or individually.

Millions of people around the world will again participate in this annual earthquake drill, including families, businesses, schools, healthcare facilities, faith-based organizations, neighborhood groups and more.

To participate, register in advance at Shakeout. Over 1.2 million people in Washington registered last year and so far this year, over one million people already have registered.  Schools use this event as their October monthly emergency drill.

Like the National Emergency Alert Test, the Great Shakeout will be initiated by the National Weather Service with their EAS message airing on all radio and TV broadcaster’s cable systems, as well on the all-hazard NOAA Weather Radio Network. In addition, the network of over 100 All-Hazard Alert Broadcast (AHAB) outdoor siren and speaker systems from the outer coast to the North Sound will also be activated.

Like a fire drill at school or work, the Great Shakeout offers the moment to drop, cover and hold for a minute. Have fun with the event, like taking photos and videos while under a table or desk, and post them on social media.

Washington is earthquake country, second to California as the most-threatened state in the nation. The interior of western Washington has a number of earthquake faults zig-zagging across the region. These faults include the South Whidbey Island fault, the Seattle fault, the Tacoma fault, and the Saddle Mountain fault. Geologic history shows all these faults can produce at least 7.0 magnitude earthquakes with substantial shaking.

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And then there is the Cascadia Subduction Zone just off the Pacific Northwest coast history shows can produce around a 9.0 magnitude quake. This subduction zone is similar to those off Japan, which produced a major earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, plus off the coast of Alaska, the west coast of South America such as Chile, and around many Pacific Ocean basin coastlines.

The Great Shakeout drill also provides the opportunity to practice your backup communication plan. An earthquake will likely occur when we are not at home, and phones and transportation corridors may no longer be accessible. Know in advance how and who to reach in case phone and power systems are out of service.

These two emergency notification tests help ensure these warning systems will be there when needed, highlight the need to receive warning messages to ensure receipt in case one or more systems are offline, and reinforce the need for preparedness and readiness in case something unfortunate happens.

Follow Ted Buehner, the KIRO Newsradio FM meteorologist on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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