At 2:18 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, cellphones across the United States will emit the ominous ring of an emergency presidential alert. From a report: It will be the first nationwide test of a wireless emergency alert system, designed to warn people of a dire threat, like a terror attack, pandemic or natural disaster. There is no opting out, which has already prompted a lawsuit. “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System,” it will read. “No action is needed.” Two minutes later, televisions and radios will show test alerts. There is no notification plan for landlines. Officials say they believe that the wireless test will reach about 75 percent of the cellphones in the country, though they hope the number is higher. It could take up to 30 minutes for the alerts to be transmitted to all devices. Some things that could interfere: ongoing phone calls or data transmission, a device that is turned off or out of range, and smaller cellphone providers that are not participating in the program. The test, originally planned for last month but delayed by Hurricane Florence, is the culmination of many years of work. The federal government developed a system to issue the alerts, which are scripted in coordination with numerous government agencies. They are limited to 90 characters, but will be expanded to 360 in the future. The Communications Act of 1934 gives the president the power to use communications systems in case of an emergency, and a 2006 law called for the Federal Communications Commission to work with the wireless industry to transmit such messages.
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