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Your phone will emit a blaring emergency alert today - unless you do this

Want to avoid FEMA's nationwide emergency alert test today? Here's what you need to know.
Written by Jada Jones, Associate Editor
FEMA alert
Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will conduct an emergency alert to all consumer cell phones on Wednesday, October 4, at 2:20 p.m. ET. This test measures the effectiveness of Wireless Emergency Alerts to determine how well FEMA can alert people of emergencies via cell phone.

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Here's everything you should know about it.

Why is FEMA testing phones?

FEMA is sending emergency alerts to cell phones to measure the effectiveness of its cellular emergency alert system. As natural disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes continue to damage infrastructure and threaten lives, FEMA wants to strengthen citizens' emergency readiness.

Most Americans have a cell phone and use it throughout their day, making cell phones the most direct and surefire way to communicate emergency information to citizens.

Legislation passed in 2015 requires FEMA to test their emergency alert systems at least once every three years.

How does FEMA send alerts?

On October 4 at about 2:20 p.m. ET, every cell phone will receive a text accompanied by a loud, distinctive tone and vibration pattern. The text will say, "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action needed."

Any cell phone that's turned on, uses a participating carrier and is within range of a cell tower will receive the alert.

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FEMA will also broadcast the alert on TVs and radios turned on and tuned into a broadcast station, satellite radio or TV service, or cable or wireless TV.

Can I opt out of FEMA's alert?

No. If you're in the middle of a phone call, your phone won't ring with FEMA's alert. However, you cannot turn off your phone's ability to receive the warning. 

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The only ways to avoid your phone ringing from FEMA's alert if you're not in the middle of a call is to power it off or switch it into airplane mode before the alert rolls out. Switching your phone to silent mode will not stop you from receiving the alert.

What if I don't want anyone to hear my phone ring?

If you're in an unsafe situation and have a second or hidden cell phone for emergencies, or if you're in class or another space you don't want to disrupt, you should switch it off from at least 2 p.m. ET to 3 p.m. ET. Otherwise, it will ring with FEMA's alert.

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