The Emergency Alert System was tested nationwide on Wednesday, giving the federal government its first opportunity to assess the system’s reliability. And, yeah, good thing they tested it out.
As the test hit stations across the country at 2:00 p.m. EST, it seemed like the number of markets reporting problems outnumbered the places where the alert went off without a hitch.
“The first nationwide test of an emergency broadcast signal flopped in Oregon,” Eugene CBS-affiliate KVAL wrote on its website following the planned test. The test was reportedly supposed to originate at the Oregon Public Broadcasting studios in Portland but when federal officials transmitted the test there as scheduled, an equipment failure effectively killed it on arrival.
Bill Johnstone, president of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters, told The Oregonian that federal officials were partially to blame for the failure.
“The signal that FEMA sent was of very poor quality,” Johnstone said. “It was terrible.”
In Los Angeles, the test worked but overstayed its welcome for many viewers. On KCBS and KABC, the test went up as scheduled but then the EAS graphic stayed up for roughly four minutes before the stations were able to cut back to their regularly scheduled programming. At KCBS, that meant the 11 o’clock newscast.
Viewers in Cleveland and Washington, D.C. also reported that the EAS slate stayed on for much longer than planned.
In Denver, the test was seen by most cable viewers but those using antennas saw regular programming. The hardware that ABC-affiliate KMGH uses to monitor the emergency alert system received an incomplete message and was unable to cut into programming. According to KMGH, the failure caused the station to lose audio for more than two hours after the planned test while engineers rebuilt several computer programs.
What Wednesday’s EAS test made apparent was that, in an age of seemingly border-less hyper-connectivity on the internet, the system of local television is as fractured and complex as ever. Much of the problems that occurred on Wednesday were related to the fact that people receive television now in myriad different ways. In many markets, viewers using cable or antennae received the message while DirecTV subscribers heard audio of Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi.”