Presidential Alert test pushed to cellphones by federal government

If you received an emergency alert to your cellphone Wednesday afternoon, don’t freak out — it was just a test.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) conducted a nationwide test of the government’s Wireless Emergency Alert System, which sent an alert to tens of millions of cellphones across the country.

A Presidential Alert test is seen on this cellphone screenshot on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018.
A Presidential Alert test is seen on this cellphone screenshot on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Photo Credit: Lauren Cook

The test alert was pushed to all cellphones that were turned on and within range of an active cell tower at 2:18 p.m. The message read: “Presidential alert: THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

A separate test of the Emergency Alert System via radio and television providers took place at 2:20 p.m.

The city Office of Emergency Management is asking New Yorkers to fill out an online survey about the test. The agency plans to use the survey to help improve local alerts.

The Wireless Emergency Alert System was created in 2012 and has issued over 36,000 alerts based on geographic location for situations such as missing children, extreme weather and natural disasters.

In 2016, former President Barack Obama signed a law requiring FEMA to create a system that allows the president to send cellphone alerts regarding public safety emergencies, but the Wireless Emergency Alert System has never sent a presidential directive until now.

Cellphone users are not able opt out of Presidential Alerts.

Federal officials said President Donald Trump was not personally involved in sending the alert on Wednesday.

The FCC and FEMA initially intended to send the nationwide alert in September, but moved the test to October because of federal response efforts to flooding caused by Hurricane Florence in the Southeast.