Earl and I were driving in a rural part of the county when every iDevice within our reach vibrated, squealed and displayed this.


Notice there is very little information contained in this noisy, urgent alert. There was apparently an emergency in the area we were driving through. I tuned the radio to a local station and they were offering up an ad on mattresses. Since we were headed in the general direction of the local nuclear power plants, I was considered that perhaps something was melting down. Briefly I thought that Russia was hacking into our emergency alert system. For a moment I considered that perhaps PEOTUS was doing something stupid.

With no answers from the radio, I pulled over and searched Twitter, where tweets were starting to appear from our general area asking the same question that I was seeking to answer: what was the emergency and why was there a mobile device blast alerting everyone about this vague crisis?

I found little in the way of answers on Twitter and decided that nothing awful was happening, so we continued on our trip. Earl monitored Twitter and Facebook for a few moments and we deduced that there was a warehouse fire about 45 miles from our location at the time. Later, the local television station updated their Facebook status with a notification that the alert was meant for the small village where the warehouse was located and that it was inadvertently sent to every mobile device in the county.

Mistakes happen, I get that. When an error was discovered, another blast should have been sent indicating that the first was a false alarm. But no such thing happened, we were on our own to discover the source of this very vague alert. Not the best way to notify the populace of an emergency.

Mobile device blasts like this should contain the nature of the alert and the action required. Alerts like this should be reserved for instances where evacuation is necessary: an incoming nuclear warhead, a terrorist attack, an F5 tornado wiping out towns or a potential meteor strike. To the best of my knowledge from all the research I’ve since done since this alert blast, there was no evacuation of the small town where this fire was taking place. No one was asked to move.

Back in the day the Emergency Broadcast System made a wailing noise that got your attention. It made your hair stand on end. The newer Emergency Alert System (the one with the “duck farts” noise) does not grab one’s attention in the same way. The EAS is used for every weather warning, every threat of snow and with the lack of an attention grabbing sound, results in the message being easily ignored. Repeatedly using the EAS once or twice a month results in apathy.

If we are going to have this 21st century way of alerting citizens of a dire emergency, we need to use this new system with caution and reservation. Overuse results in ineffectiveness. And with undoubtedly turbulent times in the coming months (see the Presidential election results), having emergency related technology we can count on for information and urgency is important.

Let’s step away from the Chicken Little mentality.