Trump's Presidential Alert Emergency System Test Postponed
By David E. Hubler
Contributor, EDM Digest
A nationwide test of the presidential wireless emergency alert (WEA) system, originally scheduled for Thursday, September 20, has been pushed back to October 3.
In a Sept. 17 tweet, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) cited the “severe weather across much of the East Coast and ongoing response efforts” as the reason for the postponement.
However, many social media users were quick to criticize the test as redundant because of the public alert systems already in place, including the Emergency Alert System (EAS). The EAS displays emergency messages on television and on radio stations.
Americans Resisting New Presidential Alert Due to Lack of Opt-Out Feature
Many users also objected to the mandatory nature of the presidential alert, which will be automatically sent as text messages to mobile devices. Users of these devices will not have the ability to opt out of receiving the presidential alerts. In addition, some carriers may charge their customers a fee for cellphone usage time.
Jeramie Scott, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center’s Domestic Surveillance Project, told NBC News that without more information on the breadth and reach of this system, there could be a risk of abuse.
Scott called the WEA an intrusive alert system, because it stops all forms of communications to mobile devices while the alert is processing.
“With a system that affects so many people,” Scott said, “it's important that we step back and have a conversation about when such a system should be used and make sure there are safeguards put into place when such a system is abused.” He called for a discussion of “what limits can be imposed to prevent the president from abusing this authority.”
Users Concerned that Trump May Use Presidential Alert for Political Purposes
Others expressed concern that a direct message from President Trump to the nation could be used for political purposes, similar to how he uses his official Twitter page, NBC said.
The Washington Examiner’s Erin Dunne called the national emergency alert a great idea. "Why shouldn’t the technology literally at our fingertips be able [to] alert us to a national threat?” But she also urged the president to “be careful not to make it political or abuse the power” of the system."
Dunne said, “Having such a system, if it lacks proper oversight, could easily create a nationwide panic.” She recalled what happened earlier this year in Hawaii, when a “test” message about a missile strike went live, causing widespread panic before it was recalled.
However, it is unlikely that Trump will be able to use the presidential alert system to send political messages. According to the 2015 Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act, the “system shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.”