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The Presidential Alert: Was it a success?

The Presidential Alert: Was it a success? hero image
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The first U.S. nationwide “Presidential Alert” test was conducted on October 3rd, and you might be wondering if it was a success. The alert was sent using the same capabilities that local and state officials can use to send emergency alerts and Amber alerts, so the results of the test provide useful insights for all alerting authorities. The test used the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system to deliver alerts to smartphones and the Emergency Alert System (EAS) to push alerts television and radio broadcast stations.

Immediately after the test, NPR posted a simple poll on Twitter and of 22,077 responses, 79% reported they received it, 21% said they did not. Dekalb County, Georgia posted a similar survey and of 5,038 respondents, 80% reported they received it. Although survey results vary, in all cases a significant portion of the targeted population did not receive the alert.

Everbridge conducted a more detailed survey that explored how people received it, when they received it, and their attitudes about the alert. Over 3,500 people completed the survey across all 50 states, and similar to the NPR poll, 83% of the Everbridge survey respondents said they received the alert on their smartphone. Less than 10% said they received the alert via TV or radio, and 15% said they did not receive the alert in any way.

How people received the alert

Breakdown who received WEA by provider

A large portion of the Everbridge survey respondents reported their mobile provider is Verizon (48%), followed by AT&T (25%), T-Mobile (11%) and Sprint (8%). Although Sprint users represented the smallest number of respondents, they reported the highest percentage receiving the alert (88%).

Although the majority of respondents reported receiving the alert, most (52%) did not hear the blaring audible tone on their smartphone. This is likely because they put their phone on silent.

Sulayman Brown of Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management, says he’s confident the Wireless Emergency Alerts would reach a large portion of their population in the event they needed to use it, but they understand it would not sufficiently reach everyone that is targeted.

Similar to the Everbridge survey, Fairfax County and the National Capital Region conducted a survey after a region-wide test in April. Over 18,000 people responded to the public survey, which concluded that 28% did not receive that alert. “We don’t rely on a single method for delivering alerts. Our local notification system, Fairfax Alerts, can send Wireless Emergency Alerts and Emergency Alert System alerts, but more often we deliver alerts using other methods—text messages, emails, phone calls, social media, and mobile apps. Our subscribers can personalize what information they receive, how they receive it, and when they receive it,” explains Mr. Brown. “We assess the severity and urgency of a situation to determine which methods should be used and when they should be sent.”

Understanding why many people did not receive the Presidential Alert remains a mystery, but some people may simply not have a device or mobile provider that supports the capability. The four major providers have agreed to do distribute WEAs, and the majority of modern smartphones are WEA capable. People can provide feedback to the Federal Communications Commission by completing a form on their website.

The complete infographic on the Everbridge survey follows…