On Thursday, people in New York with capable phones will receive text messages that will either say "severe alert" or "extreme alert." It's no reason for panic. These messages are part of the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system test.
The New York City Office of Emergency Management (OEM), together with the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), are conducting a test on the WEA system - a new, free emergency notification program that will send messages to people who might be in an affected area. Phones on the AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon networks that are WEA-capable may receive the messages during the test, according to officials with the New York City Office of Emergency Management.
The messages will be sent out Thursday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Users will hear a sound alert, even if the phone is on silent. The screen of the device will either say "Severe Alert" or "Extreme Alert," but if a user reads on further, they will see the following message: "This is a test from NYC Office of Emergency Mgmt. Test Message 1. This is only a test." CBS station WCBS in New York City reported that six messages will be sent out, but users who are able to receive the messages may get one or more messages or none at all.
When in place, the WEA system will allow the FCC and FEMA to send out texts about natural disasters, terrorist attacks and AMBER alerts for missing children.
The New York test comes days after Verizon Wireless accidentally sent an emergency alert, telling some of their customers in the Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties of New Jersey that an extreme alert was in place. The text message told people to "take shelter now." It was not marked as a test.
Even though the New Jersey office of Homeland Security tweeted that there was no danger, the surprise alert scared many residents. The number of calls to the Monmouth County 911 call center doubled from the same time last week between noon and 1 p.m., Cynthia Scott, a county sheriff's department spokeswoman, said to the Associated Press. She added most people weren't panicking, but were concerned with what was happening.
The complete WEA system will be unveiled on January 1, 2012 in New York City. According to WCBS the system will be in place in cities across the country by the end of 2012.