President of Novistrana
19th January 2003
As if Florida didn't have enough to worry about this hurricane season, some residents of the Sunshine State were alerted to a nonexistent radiological emergency last Wednesday after a National Weather Service operator fat-fingered a routine test of the Emergency Alert System.
The EAS, a 1997 replacement for the Cold War-era Emergency Broadcast System, transmits emergency audio and text information to the public over weather-alert radios and by interrupting commercial television and radio broadcasts.
A digital header at the top of every EAS alert dictates how long it's in effect and how far the message should be propagated. It also identifies the type of event by a three-letter code.
The Florida gaffe occurred when an operator at the National Weather Service's Tallahassee forecast office inadvertently entered the code "RHW" instead of "RWT," keying a radiological hazard warning instead of a required weekly test.
The warning was broadcast to the Florida panhandle and parts of southern Georgia, said National Weather Service warning-coordination meteorologist Walt Zaleski. Fortunately, it failed to cause panic, in part because the audio accompanying the message still identified it as "only a test," and the office moved rapidly to quash the false alarm.
"They quickly alerted every radio and television station within their viewing and listening area that the ID had gone out incorrectly and there was no emergency to speak of," said Zaleski.
A similar glitch at a Las Vegas radio station a day earlier falsely alerted cable companies, radio and TV stations in five counties to a national crisis that didn't exist.
That error occurred Tuesday afternoon when KXTE-FM tried to send out a message canceling an earlier Amber Alert, and instead transmitted an EAN, or emergency action notification -- a special code reserved for the president of the United States to use in the event of a nuclear war or similar extreme national emergency.
KXTE ("X-treme Radio"), which didn't return phone calls about the incident, serves as the local primary feed for southern Nevada and parts of California, which means broadcasters in that region are tuned to the station 24 hours a day to pick up and propagate EAS messages.
Under FCC regulations, those broadcasters must interrupt their regular programming when they receive an EAN code. But anomalies in the header, the absence of accompanying audio and the fact that there has never been a genuine national activation caused stations to question Tuesday's message, said Nevada EAS chair Adrienne Abbott. "A lot of stations caught it and did not forward it out," Abbott said.
The error apparently resulted from a hardware problem in the station's EAS encoder-decoder. "We think that the internal battery had failed, the programming had scrambled itself," said Abbott.
The FCC is in the midst of a comprehensive review of the EAS network, with an eye to updating the system for the internet age. But experts say the public has already developed some immunity to bogus warnings. "Research into the behavior of warning recipients suggests that a single false alarm, without corroboration from other credible sources, generally elicits only limited reaction from the public," a report from the nonprofit Partnership for Public Warning noted last year.
Carolyn Levering, plans and operations coordinator for the Office of Emergency Management in Clark County, Nevada, says equipment failure is a fact of life in a system as complex as the EAS. "There wasn't a lot that could have been done to avoid it," Levering said.
But the human error behind Florida's false alarm is more easily dealt with. The National Weather Service said last week that as a result of the Tallahassee incident, it's adding a confirmation process to its alerting software nationwide that should make issuing a serious alert at least as difficult as deleting a folder from a Windows desktop.
"Now when the operator calls up on their computer screen what particular three-letter ID they'd like to send, another window will pop up and say, 'Do you really want to issue this radiological hazard warning?'" said Zaleski.
"some residents of the Sunshine State were alerted to a nonexistent radiological emergency last Wednesday after a National Weather Service operator fat-fingered a routine test of the Emergency Alert System." haha.
The local Paultard
24th May 2003
I just hope that if there really is a disaster, they press the right buttons.
GF's Cognitive Psychologist
13th April 2004
W is miles away from T on a qwerty keyboard.
I would die without GF
2nd May 2003
Snake_ShitW is miles away from T on a qwerty keyboard.
That guy must have been really fat.
Back from the dead!
8th July 2004
Yeah, ***REALLY*** fat-fingered...hopefully the military doesn't do that when launching missiles, etc... \/ Press "W" to launch WMD Press "E" to launch one ounce of plastic explosives... :lol:
46 and 2, are just ahead of me
23rd September 2004
:lolpoint: That's most floridians for you, bunch of idiots that are clumsy. I didn't see anything about it here.
Back from the dead!
8th July 2004
@ Phoenix... Well, states don't want to diss themselves. :D
No! I'm Spamacus!
17th June 2003
Smitty025I just hope that if there really is a disaster, they press the right buttons.
I just hope everyone else knows what to do. From what I gathered the radio stations didn't do what they should have done, and citizens didn't seemed phased. Hopefully when there is an emergency everyone doesn't ignore the "cry of wolf".