National Emergency Alert System Test Gave Prisons Opportunity to Catch Prisoners in the Act 

On Wednesday (October 4), the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Federal Communication Commission coordinated a nationwide test of their Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alerts – affecting hundreds of millions of radios, televisions, and cell phones across the United States. 

FEMA and FCC conducted the test at around 2:20 p.m. ET on Wednesday with one simple goal in mind – to ensure these systems are an effective and efficient form of communication when issuing warnings to the public. The EAS sent a test out to radios and televisions, while the WEA sent a test out to cell phones.

While the government’s primary goal was to test the efficacy and effectiveness of the Emergency Alert System, they ended up getting more than what they bargained for when the test ended up benefiting the prison system by allowing prisons to easily and quickly identify prisoners who illegally had a cell phone. 

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As most of us know, prisons generally don’t allow prisoners to have a cell phone – for obvious reasons. With that said, it should come as no surprise that prisoners often disobey this rule and find a way to not only get a cell phone into their prison cell (and on their person), but use it on a daily and/or regular basis.

Let’s just say some of those prisoners with cell phones were caught off guard on Wednesday when the Emergency Alert System lit up their phone with a message – ultimately alerting nearby prison guards with its loud and obnoxious ring. This made it very easy for prison guards to confiscate unwanted cell phones. 

For example, one New York State Prison official said they confiscated two cell phones at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York. Two more cell phones were confiscated at the Federal Correctional Institution, Coleman Low in Wildwood, Florida as a result of the Emergency Alert System.

The test didn’t fool everyone, though. One source in Nevada told TMZ that most of their prisoners were aware of the test and made sure to turn their phones off prior to it going off. Don’t worry, most prisons are already implementing systems to confiscate phones – such as E-dogs, who can sniff out cell phones. 

Why Didn’t My Phone Get the Emergency Alert System Test? 

Since all major wireless providers in the United States take part in the Emergency Alert System, anyone with a cell phone (or even a TV or radio) likely took part in the test. With that said, some people were fortunate to avoid the emergency test and those people might be wondering why their phone didn’t go off.

There are a couple of reasons why your phone might’ve missed the test. For starters, FEMA announced that the emergency test wouldn’t interrupt a phone call. Likewise, the alert would be voided if the phone were turned off, placed in airplane mode, or not in the range of an active cell tower at the time of the test. 

Not only that, but some cell phone models aren’t compatible with Wireless Emergency Alerts – such as any iPhone older than an iPhone 4. FEMA also revealed that some smaller wireless providers don’t participate in the WEA and, therefore, don’t take part in the test. Those customers won’t receive the alert.

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Those who did receive the alert saw a message like this: “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. The purpose is to maintain and improve alert and warning capabilities at the federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial levels and to evaluate the nation’s public alert and warning capabilities. No action is required by the public.”

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