Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Communications Government Television The Media United States IT Technology

Failures Mark First National Test of Emergency Alert System 451

An anonymous reader writes "The first full-scale test of the National Emergency Alert System failed on Tuesday at 2 PM. Some radio and television networks did not air any alert, while the performance of others was inconsistent. 'Some DirectTV customers reported hearing Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" play during the test. Some Comcast subscribers saw their cable boxes turn to QVC before the alert, while Time Warner Cable customers in New York did not see any alert at all.'" If you were tuned to any American broadcaster at the time, did the alert system reach you?
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Failures Mark First National Test of Emergency Alert System

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:24PM (#38015236)

    Those words never go together. I am shocked.

    • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:35PM (#38015370) Homepage Journal

      Each failure is an opportunity to learn and improve.

      The real failure would be to not identify failures and not improve - then we'd have to be blasted about it by the sensationalist media, trumpeting how inept government is.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 10, 2011 @04:25PM (#38016038)
        I have to say, I think an actual failure would be if it were during an emergency.

        As I say at work, this is why we test. Debugging finds bugs. That's kinda what it's for.
        • by neokushan ( 932374 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @04:36PM (#38016164)

          ^ This

          Testing for something and finding that the test didn't pass is NOT a failure of a system. It's exactly what it said - a test. Now they know where the faults are they can work on fixing them.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Obfuscant ( 592200 )

            Testing for something and finding that the test didn't pass is NOT a failure of a system. It's exactly what it said - a test.

            And when the test fails, it is, indeed, a failure of the system as a whole. What was the intended outcome? (A nationwide alert.) Was the outcome achieved? (No.) This is almost a "by definition" kind of concept, you know. You test something and it doesn't work, that means IT FAILED.

            The only way this test didn't fail "because it was a test" is if you think the important operational criterion is the ability to test, not the ability to notify people in an emergency. Or maybe you are confused by the use of the

            • by RockClimbingFool ( 692426 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @06:04PM (#38017058)

              Hey, you do know the difference between DEVELOPMENT testing and ACCEPTANCE testing, right?

              The national alert system is a product in development. This was a test to determine what is working and what is not working. You can simulate and test individual pieces all you want, but until you get the opportunity to test the entire system, you have no idea what links in the chain are broken.

              This country is full of fucking idiots that have no clue how engineering is performed. Just keep your misinformation to yourself and stop trying to make those around you dumber.

    • Damn straight! (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:53PM (#38015586)

      We should leave emergency notifications to the free markets! You want to know about disasters and what to do? Well, just subscribe to a disaster notification service. I'm AT&T or your cable companies will provide that service as part of a package of some sort. And we all know what superior service cable companies have over pathetic government!

      • Re:Damn straight! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by sorak ( 246725 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @06:05PM (#38017064)

        We should leave emergency notifications to the free markets! You want to know about disasters and what to do? Well, just subscribe to a disaster notification service. I'm AT&T or your cable companies will provide that service as part of a package of some sort. And we all know what superior service cable companies have over pathetic government!

        We already do! There is no law preventing any organization from creating such a service. Our options are "free market and government" or "free market only"...Sorry for posting a serious reply to satirical comment, but one of my pet peeves is when the government steps in to solve a problem and conservatives reply "the free market would have done it faster/better/cheaper".

        No, they wouldn't have, and they didn't. That's why the problem existed.

      • Even better (Score:5, Insightful)

        by publiclurker ( 952615 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @07:17PM (#38017590)
        the could have different warning tiers. for the Platinum level, you get a full 30 minutes warning. For the common folk, we have bronze with 30 seconds.
      • Where's the mod for "Brilliantly sarcastic"?

    • by BradleyUffner ( 103496 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @04:02PM (#38015710) Homepage

      Those words never go together. I am shocked.

      Yeah... except it was the private broadcast companies that failed to properly show the alert not the goverment.

      • by smpoole7 ( 1467717 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @05:06PM (#38016514) Homepage

        >private broadcast companies ... failed ...

        Been waiting for people would say that.

        The engineer at the local PEP (Primary Entry Point) in our state was standing at the transmitter site, watching the equipment, when the test began. He was on the phone with FEMA, as a matter of fact.

        The test never came through. The (FEMA-supplied) equipment never responded. As a result, most of central Alabama never even got the test.

        The failure was on THEIR end, not ours. We had done TWO statewide tests just prior to the national one and they worked fine. Don't blame us, dood. :)

        • by quetwo ( 1203948 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @05:34PM (#38016772) Homepage

          I was at the PEP in our area. The CAP message that FEMA sent out was coded wrong. They sent out the CAP message using the format they dictated last year, not the newer format dictated this summer. Most of the equipment I know threw out any message it did get, and it simply didn't forward it to any downstreams.

          Those who supported the backup method of the older EAN system, which they were supposed to foward regardless of the CAP messaging did so.

                          'Wed Nov 9 14:03:00 2011 EST' to 'Wed Nov 9 14:18:00 2011 EST'
                  Forwarded : 'Wed Nov 9 14:00:34 2011 EST'
                            United States(000000) District of Columbia, DC(011001)

          All in all, in our area, we had 1 TV station, 2 radio stations, and 1 cable system (out of 5) that did any type of notification -- wether it came from IPAWS or EAN. That's a failure in my mind, as we were supposed to have our older EAN system as a backup.

    • by cant_get_a_good_nick ( 172131 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @05:13PM (#38016588)

      Err, Human failure....

      I'm never sure why people like to pile on the government. Like any social organization, and Soylent Green, it's made of people. Just like Citibank screwed itself, Enron self destructed, Goldman Sachs enabled Greece to self-destruct, all governments and companies are made of people.

      One additional thing to add, government employees rarely get high pay (remember that those $600 toilet seats were paid to private contractors). So, you're blaming fallible humans, a group made more likely to be fallible by the fact you don't want to pay (taxes) to hire the best.

  • by cwgmpls ( 853876 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:25PM (#38015248) Journal
    Tests are supposed to fine failures. That's what they are for.
    • by DikSeaCup ( 767041 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:42PM (#38015456) Homepage
      Because there's a fiscal penalty for failure when it's found!
    • Tests are supposed to fine failures

      Maybe we could run more "tests" to help balance the budget? =)

    • by Locutus ( 9039 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @05:06PM (#38016508)
      except fire drills and things like that where they tell you the time it'll occur and even stage evacuations to pass "the test". I once worked at a new facility where strange tripod sensors were all around and we were told to not use certain equipment for the week. It was only much later that I learned those sensors were some kind of environmental sensors required before long term occupation of the building was allowed.

      I agree that properly run tests are supposed to find failures and proper procedures solve the problems found and future tests find other failures if there are any. Ten years after 9/11 and this is just coming about is my question. Remember how the dead hijackers were given visa extensions something like 3 years after the enacted the attacks? I think it was the 2008 election before Bush and his party started talking about immigration issues.

      I think the geeks would be better off relying on their own form of warning system instead of relying on a government operated one. Maybe something tied in with HAM operators and their data passing system. Handhelds and base station radios are not that expensive these days.

      • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @05:27PM (#38016680)

        I think the geeks would be better off relying on their own form of warning system

        Yeahhhhhhh..... maybe not.

        I remember the Internet on 9/11. It went basically this way:

        1) IT people talking/screaming with other IT people relating information as it was happening. Information got *slightly* altered from one "hop" to the other.
        2) Mailing Lists and IRC channels on fire with reports about everything from aliens, aliens raping people, mad cow disease attack, the Russians invading on the East Coast, ICBM launch confirmed by a friend at an undisclosed military location, etc.
        3) Screams of, "But I have not gotten laid yet! It's NOT fair!"
        4) Fuck it. Meet me in Everquest. We're taking those bastards down before we die.

        The "Enemy" could not have created a better disinformation system if they tried.

        Facebook? Twitter? ... Farmville? It would be an even more glorious cluster fuck if it happened twice.

  • Spotty (Score:5, Informative)

    by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:26PM (#38015278) Homepage

    I was in the car listening to NPR for this. The NPR (WGBH) station did a nice little lead in story and switched smoothly to the test. As soon as it did I started jamming presets and none of the other station I had programmed got the test. Local Alt Rock station, local R&B station, and the other NPR station all failed to broadcast the test as far as I can tell.

    • Re:Spotty (Score:5, Funny)

      by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:36PM (#38015388)

      No, the government is just being selective about who they save in the event of a catastrophe. Apparently, they believe that we will need NPR listeners in the post-apocalyptic world. Alt Rock and R&B listeners, they think they can do without.

    • Re:Spotty (Score:4, Interesting)

      by jmcharry ( 608079 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:58PM (#38015672)

      The alert is sent to a primary station in each area and daisy chained to others. WHQR is, I think, third in a chain. The alert hit there at 2:00:39. It got the start and stop "duck farts", but not the message itself. The scuttlebutt is that FEMA messed up the head end audio.

      • Re:Spotty (Score:5, Informative)

        by choprboy ( 155926 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @04:55PM (#38016382) Homepage

        Came across here at 12:02 MST and the audio stream was screwed up. The audio alerts came thru fine, but the message was extremely faint and unintelligible. About half way thru the 60sec test someone at the radio station cranked the input volume all the way up, horrible high-pitched whine of background noise, but you could at least understand what was being said then. Still, it sounded like trying to tune into a radio station a thousand miles away... The normal monthly tests have never seemed to have that problem.

    • Re:Spotty (Score:5, Informative)

      by Phreakiture ( 547094 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @04:10PM (#38015806) Homepage

      There are different message priorities. I don't remember what the priority levels are called (it's been about eight years since I've been involved in broadcasting), but the options essentially allow some messages to be stored and rebroadcast later (with a limit on how much later). Higher priority messages go out in real-time; lower priority may be discarded.

      The radio station's EAS ENDEC is supposed to manage this for them. In the event of a top-priority message, it just takes over the airwaves in real-time. Middle and lower priority alert the engineer to the situation and let him/her decide when to send the message. If the message is not sent before the time is up, middle-priority messages will seize the transmitter and lower-priority messages will get dropped.

      I would expect this message to have been encoded with the middle option -- store it for up to xx minutes, then take action automatically if the station didn't do so voluntarily. This would result in it going out over different stations at different times, and that would be desired outcome.

    • Re:Spotty (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bennomatic ( 691188 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @04:15PM (#38015882) Homepage
      I was at my computer, with several browser windows and a couple of email clients open. My cell phone was right next to me. When the time came, my Outlook reminder popped up and told me it was time for lunch.

      Too bad these notifications don't reach those of us who don't rely on antiquated broadcast media.
      • What they need to provide is a CAP feed of their EAS alerts. Leave it up to hardware developers how to implement it. Or implement it DIY as well. Can't seem to find any public URL, but apparently this is how they provide the information to broadcasters..

        • Re:Spotty (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Talisein ( 65839 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @07:08PM (#38017526) Homepage

          IPAWS has a (just barely out of development AFAIK) private RSS feed that you need a special pin code or something for. It is just for broadcasters. They also have a private SOAP server that you need some X509 certs for to pull public CAPs from (this is a superset of EAS alerts).

          IPAWS eventually will have a public RSS feed for EAS messages, but they don't seem as concerned about making sure that it will be properly provisioned to serve millions of clients hitting it up constantly.

          I'm developing an OSS application to feed IPAWS messages from their SOAP server to a public xmpp server: https://github.com/talisein/Stormee [github.com]

          Its not really ready for prime time yet, but I should have something that works in a couple weeks.

      • Seemed to work fine then. The government obviously doesn't want to help people who are out to lunch.

  • by dstyle5 ( 702493 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:27PM (#38015286)
    ... because that is exactly what you would expect in a test of such a large system. The real surprise is if it would have worked without any issues on the first go round.
    • by PRMan ( 959735 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:49PM (#38015542)
      They didn't use the last system on 9/11, which was the largest emergency in most of our lives, so who cares?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Probably because 9/11 in all actuality was only a threat to a ludicrously, miniscule number of people compared to say... the rest of the country. I wouldn't be surprised if 98% of the country wasn't even slightly, remotely affected by it (ignoring the after side-effects of the shredding of the constitution and soforth).

        • by IANAAC ( 692242 )

          Probably because 9/11 in all actuality was only a threat to a ludicrously, miniscule number of people compared to say... the rest of the country. I wouldn't be surprised if 98% of the country wasn't even slightly, remotely affected by it (ignoring the after side-effects of the shredding of the constitution and soforth).


          Is that why pretty much every major city in the US with a bridge or tall building peed themselves and put their respective cities in some sort of watch/lockdown combination?

      • by bws111 ( 1216812 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @04:16PM (#38015884)

        The purpose of EAS is to alert people to take action that can save their lives, not to act as a source of breaking news.

        "Incoming missiles! Get to a bomb shelter!" is a valid alert.

        "Planes Hijacked!" is worthless. What action that could have been broadcast on EAS would have saved a single life?

      • What, pray tell, would you have had them broadcast for 9/11?

        The EAS isn't a news service, it isn't meant for "OMG SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED!". The EAS is a method for rapidly disseminating instructions for the safety of the populace, so more along the lines of, "OMG SOMETHING HAS HAPPENED, and this is what you need to do to stay safe."

        The only time I can recall the EAS being activated (And I heard it at the time), was when a tanker car had derailed and was leaking some HazMat, so the EAS was "If you're n
      • There was no point in issuing an alert over the alert system. If you were endangered by 9/11, that was because you were (A) in one of the planes, (B) in the Pentagon or (C) in lower Manhattan. Otherwise, you were in basically no more danger than you are on any other day.

        For the people on the plane, they were dead already, there was absolutely nothing that could be done to save them. Emergency alerts wouldn't have helped.

        For the Pentagon and lower Manhattan, everyone was already doing what they needed to do:

      • First off, this emergency system should not be used for something like 9/11. The media in its current state could handle the movement of information such as what happened on 9/11. On 9/11 all of Ted Turners stations were switched to CNN. The FOX corporation changed all of their channels to FOX News. Even the shopping networks went off the air and left a message up telling viewers to switch to the news stations.

        This type of system can be useful in something more grand. Such as nuclear explosions in severa
  • Doing it wrong (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    National Journal's Marc Ambinder tweets: FEMA official concedes "glitch"; says that it appears (maybe) to be related to how satellite and cable providers prepped their equipment.

    If your emergency broadcast system requires all cable and satellite providers to "prep" their equipment beforehand, you are doing something fundamentally wrong.

  • Oblig (Score:5, Funny)

    by 2names ( 531755 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:28PM (#38015298)
    I did not hear a test, but I did see a black cat walk by, then the same cat walked by again.
  • by gcnaddict ( 841664 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:28PM (#38015304)
    and from what I heard, FiOS all over the place worked without a hitch. It might have to do with the fact that Verizon's infrastructure was built inside the last decade.
  • Lost Channels (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:29PM (#38015320)

    The local cable broadcaster here lost approx 10 channels after the test, including CNN, FOX, and DISCOVERY. They all switched to the NAT GEO channel without audio for upwards of an hour after the test ran.

    In addition, the test video was jumpy, kept blacking out, audio kept dropping out, etc.

    All in all, if it had been a real emergency, losing the 2 major news channels would have been real motivation to start loading ammo and supplies and gassing up the bug out mobile. ;)

  • Seriously? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Oxford_Comma_Lover ( 1679530 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:31PM (#38015332)

    So Time Warner NY failed to implement the national emergency system that we use in the event of an *inbound ICBM attack*? When it had been announced for weeks in advance?

    Curse their sudden but inevitable betrayal.

  • So I would never see/hear an alert anyway. Likely would hear about it on /. or elsewhere online after the fact.

    I guess I should plan to get one of those weather-alert radios sometime just to make sure I am not completely out of the loop. :P

    • That's kind of what I was thinking when I heard about this test.

      I consume less and less broadcast media - be it television or radio - every day.

      Unless I just happened to be driving somewhere in a car at the time of the emergency, I simply wouldn't hear the warning.

  • Our local radio station group (and local Comcast cable TV as well) in parts of Colorado had the test run transmitted to us in almost complete gibberish. It sounded like someone had an open mic and it was recursive on itself, echoing and repeating in delay to the point of being unintelligible. Not surprised actually - most stations in my experience screw up the local/regional EAS test and have to redo it each month. Why should the national one be any different?
  • Complete waste (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bradgoodman ( 964302 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:34PM (#38015366) Homepage
    Like probably 99.99% of america, I was neither watching TV or listening to the radio at 2pm on a weekday afternoon.

    I do have a cell phone on me all the time, and received no alerts on it.

    I can tell you from experience however, that if it were an Amber Alert, I would have been aware of it immediately.

    CONCLUSION: EAS is another complete misguided federal program.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      1. Millions heard it.
      2. Using all communication methods to broadcast a message of national urgency is hardly misguided. It's a common sense idea.
      3. They'll add other methods soon enough.

    • Re:Complete waste (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aiken_d ( 127097 ) <{brooks} {at} {tangentry.com}> on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:59PM (#38015682) Homepage

      Because any system with a test intentionally scheduled at a time of low disruption is necessarily misguided. I'll let the IT guys know the restore test they were planning for 2am is pointless because I won't be around to notice it.

      • I agree. So lets make sure the next natural disaster or nuclear attack happens during prime-time on Sweeps Week, so that way everyone will hear the announcement.
    • by Quirkz ( 1206400 )
      Like 75% of America, 2 p.m. Eastern isn't actually 2 p.m. in other time zones.

      In the Mountain time zone it was noon, and I was in my car and on the way to lunch.

  • by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <seebert42@gmail.com> on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:37PM (#38015400) Homepage Journal

    My wife was watching her soap, and it didn't happen. I heard almost none of the Western States got the alert.

  • What kind of conceivable emergency would effect the entire country? Nuclear war?

    • by 0racle ( 667029 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:43PM (#38015474)
      It is also capable of being used locally, NWS uses it like this. This test was simply the first top to bottom national test of the system, this does not mean national alerting is the only function of the system.
    • by tmosley ( 996283 )
      Media blackout.
  • Some DirectTV customers reported hearing Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" play during the test.

    Are you sure it wasn't "Take My Breath Away" by Berlin? (Proof [youtube.com])

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      I've never heard Paparazzi and thought it was Take My Breath Away. Some people are hateful about Lady Gaga, and I don't get why. Yeah, she's not a good singer, she's a lousy dancer, and her songs aren't all great. She's a pop star; that's the schtick. She brings the circus to it in a way nobody else has, though, which dare I say it actually makes it art.

  • That wasn't a mistake, that was just a targetted emergency call- part of some A/B testing.
  • by sexconker ( 1179573 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:46PM (#38015500)

    Why not just use whatever variety of pipes they used to shout about the upcoming test?
    I heard about the upcoming test from at least a dozen different sources, but was completely unaware of it when it actually happened.

  • I spent all day in the library where there are no TVs or radios.

    Also, I'm not in the US at the moment.

    • by cruff ( 171569 )
      I'm sorry to hear that. I'm sure, if you like, you could request a take over of your country by the US military and/or corporate overlords, which ever you desire. After that point, you too could share in the EAS goodness.
  • I was aware of the upcoming test but haven't followed it much being at work which means not watching TV and not listening to radio. Our 2-ways at our facility are not Part 73 broadcast, and I don't think Part 90 business or public safety radio services were part of this (wasn't scanning at the time except media 2-ways that were chasing story of a downed airplane in SF bay but it turns out it was a unmanned large balloon). I don't know of any amateur radio groups were involved (I don't think so, wasn't liste

  • Dentist (Score:4, Funny)

    by Oswald McWeany ( 2428506 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:53PM (#38015602)

    I was at the Dentists and one of my fillings started broardcasting the alert.

  • and it interrupted a badass song. I was pissed. And, on top of that, the quality was crap. I heard about 3 different announces speaking through static at once.
  • by kheldan ( 1460303 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @03:54PM (#38015612) Journal
    I have a HD TiVo, and it was completely and totally on override during the test. Wouldn't respond to any of the buttons at all, not even the TiVo button itself. Somewhat unsettling.
    • Remember when we used to buy things and we actually owned them? I'm fine with broadcasting the message on all channels, but dont subvert control of my hardware.
  • by uncanny ( 954868 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @04:19PM (#38015930)

    Some DirectTV customers reported hearing Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi" play during the test.

    The terrorists have won

  • by xquercus ( 801916 ) on Thursday November 10, 2011 @05:47PM (#38016884)
    Time Warner analog broadcast the alert about a minute after it completed on our local NPR affiliates. For about 5 seconds before the alert the TV displayed a Linux command prompt at login. I used to see this screen appear late at night occasionally when using the set top box on the other TV. The set top box would display "EAS" instead of a channel number and a login screen would be displayed for a couple minutes. There was some sort of identifiable brand name on the login screen and at one time I looked it up on google. Sure enough, it's a company that sells computer hardware and software for interfacing with EAS -- apparently linux based. Just kind of interesting.

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen