A disaster-warning system that was supposed to be carried on radio and television didn’t work in some parts of the U.S. during its first national test, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The audio and video alerts didn’t appear yesterday as scheduled in parts of Oregon and New Mexico, said FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate in an interview. In other places, the audio alone didn’t work, he said. The agency is still compiling results from the test.
The test was scheduled for 2 p.m. New York time yesterday on broadcast and satellite television and radio and cable TV and was similar to tests previously conducted locally.
For 50 years, the U.S. has had an alert system under various names that has been used regionally to provide information about severe weather and other emergencies. The national test was designed to identify shortcomings.
The failures highlighted by the test “are unacceptable,” said Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut independent, in a statement. “Government and media carriers must work together to make sure the system does what it is intended to do.”
A national alert could be used to warn of a nuclear attack or other national disasters, said Rachel Racusen, a FEMA spokeswoman.
The test served its purpose, Fugate said.
“I’m not happy it doesn’t work 100 percent, but that’s also why you test the system,” he said.
Although the alert was received by “media outlets in large portions of the country,” some viewers and listeners ultimately never got it, according to a joint statement from FEMA and the Federal Communications Commission.
In preparing for the test, U.S. officials found the system couldn’t run closed captioning for the hearing impaired, translations and, in the case of some cable TV channels, visual warnings to accompany the announcements, Fugate and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski wrote in a letter last week to governors and private-sector groups.
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