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This is a glitch, it is only a glitch: Warnings go out over the air, but there's no emergency

Whig.com | June 26, 2007
David Adam

A national emergency alert announced on local television and radio stations throughout Illinois this morning appears to be the result of a human error in Washington, D.C.

Four alerts were heard at 7:33 a.m., 7:49 a.m., 7:55 a.m. and 8:07 a.m. The alerts came from the National Emergency Alert System, which originates its signal with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency in Springfield.

With each alert, a message scrolled across television screens that read, "The Emergency Action Notification Network has issued an emergency action notification for the United States, beginning at ..."

Radio stations and TV stations both had the warning tone for about a minute, but radio stations had no audio. The alerts are designed to override the local audio and video in case of a national emergency.

Jim Lawrence, director of operations and engineering for WGEM in Quincy, said he talked this morning with representatives with IEMA who assured him there was no emergency.

"Apparently, there's some kind of test being run that shouldn't be going out," Lawrence said. "(IEMA) is getting besieged with phone calls from all over the state."

Lawrence said a representative from Chicago with the Illinois Emergency Alert System told him that he believed the glitch was part of a test of satellite receivers linking state emerency management agencies with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington, D.C.

Rather than a test code being sent to the satellites, Lawrence said he was told that the presidential code was sent instead.

WGEM is the originating source for the alerts, which are then sent to radio stations in West-Central Illinois. After the fourth alert, Lawrence disabled the system.

"We've had probably 50 calls this morning at least, and we're still getting them," he said.

Mike Moyers, general manager for STARadio in Quincy, says neither KGRC, licensed in Hannibal, Mo., or KZZK, licensed in New London, Mo., received the alerts, but the three local stations licensed in Illinois WCOY, WTAD and WQCY did.

Moyers said he went on WTAD at about 8 this morning to let listeners know there was no emergency.

"Our live lines were going wild, and we had some people who were alarmed," he said. "The upside of all of this is, well, at least we know it works."

A press release sent late this morning by IEMA said the satellite warning system was installed in Illinois on Monday. The federal government hoped to conduct a test of the new system this morning, but rather than being an internal test, the message was sent to broadcast stations.

"At this time, we don't know why the federal government used a 'hot' or active code rather than a test cost when they sent out this test message," said Andrew Velasquez III, director of IEMA, in the press release.

The EAS system replaced the former Emergency Broadcast System. It can be activated by the federal government, by states or by the National Weather Service.

Lawrence says the IEMA system does normal weekly tests WGEM does one of its own, and IEMA does one. Also, IEMA does a test on the first Tuesday of each month at varying times. Each of those alerts has audio that tells listeners that it is a test.

On the IEMA Web page, its mission statement reads, "To protect the State of Illinois through integrated approaches of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. To prepare for, respond to, mitigate against, and recover from emergencies and disasters, or acts of terrorism."

 

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