National Wireless Emergency Alerts System test scheduled for DC area on Thursday

- As you are getting coffee or riding on Metro Thursday morning, don’t be alarmed when you hear a loud emergency alert coming from your cell phone and the phones around you. It’s part of the National Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) System test.

Officials say 20 Washington metropolitan-area jurisdictions will issue a test alert to the public, the first live regional test using WEA’s geo-target capabilities. It will happen between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on April 5 and about 5.2 million people are expected to receive alerts.

“This will be the first time in the country that a major urban jurisdiction, spanning multiple states, is going to be simultaneously, and in a coordinated fashion, issuing a wireless emergency alert,” said Chris Rodriguez, Director of D.C.’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency.

If you are wondering how the government is able to find you based on your location, officials say the alerts aren’t going to specific people or phone numbers. This is based on the cellphone towers you are close to, and that means tourists in the region will get alerts as well.

The alert will trigger a loud, shrill noise and will cause the receiving device to vibrate. Both the loud audio signal and vibration will be repeated twice while displaying the text-like message on cellphones and mobile devices to let people know it is a test.

For example, in Montgomery County, the message will be: “A test of the Montgomery County Wireless Emergency Alerts System. No action required.”

Be aware, you could get more than one alert if you are traveling between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. 

Rodriguez says the purpose of this test is to make sure the system works should it be needed in an emergency.

"Whether it be a major terrorist attack or we would alert the public to stay away from a certain area, if there were police activity or response activity, for a major weather event such as a hurricane, some of the things we saw in Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico over the last year," said Rodriguez.

The areas participating in the WEA testing include: D.C., Alexandria, Bowie, College Park, City of Fairfax, Falls Church, Gaithersburg, Greenbelt, Takoma Park, Manassas, Manassas Park, Rockville, Arlington County, Charles County, Fairfax County, Frederick County, Loudoun County, Montgomery County, Prince George's County and Prince William County.

“We believe it's one of the most important functions of government is to be able to communicate with the public in an emergency or disaster,” Rodriguez said.

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