Nationwide emergency alert test hitting millions of phones today at 2:20 p.m. EST — what you need to know

emergency alert on phone screen via shutterstock
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If your phone goes off today at 2:20 p.m. ET (11:20 a.m. PT), don't panic. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be carrying out a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) And Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA).

It's nothing you should be worrying about, since the point is to ensure both systems are working correctly. That way they can be used to alert Americans in the event of a legitimate nationwide emergency. If everything goes according to plan, an alert will be pushed to your TV, radio and phone — and that's all phones, not just smartphones.

If there is a genuine emergency, or something else that interferes with these plans on October 4, a backup test will be scheduled for October 11.

The WEA drill is the one that will send alerts to phones, and it’s only the second time phones have been included in a national test. The alert itself is expected to arrive within 30 minutes of the 2:20 p.m. testing time — displaying the message “This is a test of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.” 

This will likely be accompanied by what the FCC calls “a unique attention signal and vibration.” No doubt to help you differentiate between the alert and any other kind of notification. According to the FCC you won’t be able to block national alerts, as you can with some more localized warnings such as Amber alerts. 

The EAS warning will be broadcast over TV and radio for about a minute, broadcasting a similar message.

So make sure to set up a calendar event or remember the date and time very carefully so that the alerts don’t come as any sort of shock. Because the last thing you want is to forget, and be met with some kind of bizarre chime that might cause you to briefly panic —especially if you’re in the middle of doing something important like driving. 

You don't need to do anything once the test hits, and you can go about your day while it's taking place. Just be aware that it is happening, especially if you plan on wearing headphones around testing time. 

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.