NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Mistakes happen. No system is perfect. Those are givens.
You may have already read my blog from last month about the fake zombie apocalypse warnings that went out on some radio and TV stations. Hackers were able to access EAS boxes that didn’t have the factor-issued passwords reset.
Yesterday we had another emergency warning mistake. An accidental tornado warning was issued for parts of Wisconsin because the wrong button was pushed by the National Weather Service. They were supposed to be conducting an internal test in advance of a statewide preparedness drill that’s coming up next month. Instead an active tornado warning was transmitted to some TV stations and warning text-messages were sent out to some cellphones.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’ve complained before that far too many of our statewide EAS tests have problems. Sometimes the wrong message is transmitted to radio stations. Other times the test doesn’t end correctly. Sometimes we hear just the test-alert tone, but don’t hear the “this is only a test” advisory at all. Last year’s first-ever national EAS test was a disaster, with some stations not getting the alert at all, or getting dead-air, or getting only a brief, garbled message. It was such a mess that the test hasn’t been re-tried since.
Yes, accidents happen. One of the reasons to have tests in the first place is to identify problems in the EAS system and to fix them.
But there is a problem here. In a time of a true emergency, your cellphone may not work. You may also lose your internet service. (Past experience tells us that wireless networks are easily overloaded when large numbers of people try to use them at the same time – similar to trying to use your smartphone in the middle of a sold-out Lambeau Field.) Of there’s a widespread disaster, most people will get that information from radio or TV. Things will be made worse if the public doesn’t have confidence in the EAS system. Hypothetically, what if people need to get an alert message telling them to evacuate immediately, or they need to get inside and seek shelter right now. How many lives will be at risk if people think, “oh, no big deal, it’s another one of those EAS mistakes”?