This Was Only a Test

The Dow being down 375 points added a little edge to the planned 2 p.m. test of the Emergency Alarm System today.

It was the kind of intrusion that usually comes on TV randomly, very late at night, with its bureaucratically (or electronically-generated) type, barely discernable voice, annoying set of tones and accompanying static.

But this one was supposed to be different because it was going to be on all stations at the same time simultaneously on cable and broadcast, TV and radio. Like hearing “We Are the World” all at one time all over the world.

I am all too familiar with the monthly test. It used to always break into my Friday morning radio show in Hartford.

It would come on, break into the song and just be generally annoying. I always wondered whether to pause the song playing and make way for the intrusion or let it play and be interrupted. Worse, a bit of paperwork on behalf of the DJ then followed.

Installed in 1997, the Emergency Alert System replaced the old Emergency Broadcast System in providing the tests but, like its predecessor, it has never been used in an actual emergency and indeed wasn’t even used on 9/11. Apparently they were saving it for something bigger.

At that time, it was obvious that the word got around quickly by TV stations quickly tuning to the disaster and spread worldwide by friends calling friends with the single message: “Turn on your TV.”

There would seem to be less need for a government-sponsored broadcast-wide system for a warning in this day and age – other than occasionally show that, yes, your government can break into your airwaves any time it wants to.

More and more, the EAS system is the broadcasting equivalent of removing your shoes at airports, a pointless ritual that has nothing to do with what you really want to accomplish.

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