Local News

'This is a test' alert to take over TVs, radios Wednesday

Posted November 8, 2011 3:46 p.m. EST

WRAL News

— Television and radio stations across the nation will be interrupted for about 30 seconds Wednesday afternoon for a test of the Emergency Alert System.

The sound of tones and “This is a test” will be heard on almost every station at 2 p.m. Eastern time, marking the first-ever nationwide test of the system. Regular programming will resume once it’s over.

State Emergency Management Director Doug Hoell says the system allows federal officials to give the public direct information if there is an attack or some other national disaster. Wednesday's message is only a drill, but Raleigh's 911 center is bringing in extra help.

“There are the people (who) don't get the message (that it’s a test), so we will get calls,” said Kevin Anderson, with Raleigh-Wake 911 Emergency Communications Center.

A false alarm at the height of the Cold War in 1971 was the last time the Emergency Broadcast System was activated nationwide. Today, it's an automated system called the Emergency Alert System.

For about five minutes on a February morning in 1971, it appeared as though the world might be coming to an end. An urgent message came over the news wires: “This station has interrupted its regular program at the request of the United States government.”

The president was ordering radio and TV stations to stop normal broadcasting. It was a national emergency. A few tense minutes later, the announcer sounded the all-clear.

“The Air Force at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado put the wrong message on tape,” the announcer said.

Federal officials are asking anyone watching TV or listening to the radio Wednesday to remember one thing: “Don’t stress, it’s only a test.”