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Nationwide EAS Test Proves To Be A Failure

Emergency Alert System

(Credit: Federal Communcations Commission)

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UPDATED 11/09/11 – 3:21 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS)CHICAGO (CBS) – This afternoon, for the first time ever, the Emergency Alert System was tested simultaneously nationwide.

The man who oversaw the test in Illinois said he’s not surprised with the bizarre things that happened, and said it’s a good thing it wasn’t for real.

In most places the EAS tones sounded, as scheduled, at precisely 1 p.m. Central Time. Illinois Emergency Communications Committee Chairman Wayne Miller said that the originating radio station in the Chicago area heard a second or two of audio, then nothing. And that silence was repeated on WBBM Newsradio, CBS 2 and other stations taking the EAS feed.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bob Roberts reports

Miller said some stations downstate didn’t even get the tones, and on still others, the tones morphed into feedback. Some who were tuned to DirecTV heard Lady Gaga. And, in many cases, Miller said the test lasted far longer than the promised 30 seconds.

Miller said the test gets a D — for “disaster.” But said he is not surprised,.

“This system has been in place since the CONELRAD days, back in the ’50s, and has never, ever been tested (nationwide),” Miller said. “Those of us who are involved in it, and have been for a number of years, have been wanting the government to test it because we suspected that something like this might occur.”

FEMA released a statement saying it is collecting data to determine what happened and will work with stakeholders “to improve this current technology.”

“Only through comprehensively testing, analyzing and improving these technologies can we ensure an effective and reliable national emergency alert and warning system,” said FEMA spokesperson Rachel Racusen in a prepared statement.

Miller said he believes that problem is at the federal level, not in Illinois, where a statewide test occurs monthly.

“Our system works,” he said.

EAS can trace its history back to 1951, when then-President Harry Truman authorized it to warn Americans about an impending nuclear attack. The name CONELRAD stood for “Control of Electromagnetic Radiation.”

CONELRAD’s successor was the Emergency Broadcast System. One of its tests went wrong in 1971 when an alert message, instead of the weekly Teletype test message, was inadvertently sent, although with expired passwords. The current EAS system has been in place since 1997.

Bottom line — Miller said you can expect another nationwide test next spring.