The nation received a text from President Trump on Wednesday. It wasn’t a tweet. It was just a test.
A special test of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s national “presidential alerts” went out to millions of cellphone users across the country. The test of the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system occurred at 11:18 a.m. PT.
The intent of the alert was to test the ability to warn Americans about a disaster, such as severe weather, or an event of national consequence. Trump was not to use the platform as a means of sending a political message.
A loud tone and vibration warned users to check their phones. At the GeekWire Summit, a large crowd at the Sheraton Seattle hotel held up their smartphones as the text came in.
“Got it!” some shouted.
The screen grab below is what the alert looked like on my iPhone:
“Do not reply all!” we warned the crowd, as nearly everyone appeared to receive the test.
There was no way to opt out of the test. Wireless users in the U.S. with compatible phones, connected to commercial networks run by the major wireless carriers, were supposed to get the test.
And even though the message is designed to help Americans get information during a serious event, some were vocal about their desire to never hear from Trump, in any circumstance.
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) September 15, 2018
Donald Trump is going to text all of us tomorrow afternoon with a "Presidential Alert." Where's the opt out? https://t.co/91XO64fvwd
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) October 2, 2018
People have the ability to opt out of other types of regional alerts — such as AMBER alerts for missing children or alerts related to weather warnings — through the settings on their wireless devices.
“The Communications Act of 1934 established the authority for the President to use certain private sector communications systems for priority communications, such as sending alert and warning messages to the public, during national emergencies,” FEMA said in a FAQ explaining the test, as reported by USA Today.
Axios reported that Congress requires the alert system be tested every three years. President George W. Bush authorized presidential alerts in 2006, but one has never been sent before Wednesday.
Wednesday’s test was originally scheduled for Sept. 20, but was pushed back when Hurricane Florence hit the East Coast.
During the height of tensions between the United States and North Korea earlier this year, Hawaiians were startled to receive an emergency alert on Jan. 13 that warned of an incoming ballistic missile and told residents to immediately seek shelter. That message turned out to be a test sent in error.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the lead Democrat on the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, released a statement related to the test on Wednesday.
“In order to make sure our national alert system works the way it should, we need to test it,” Schatz said. “This test is mandated by law, and it’s the right thing to do. We have strong laws and federal rules to ensure any use of these kinds of alerts, which are activated directly by FEMA, and not the president, are used appropriately. There are lots of things to worry about right now, but this test is not one of them.”