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What Are Presidential Text Alerts, and Can You Turn Them Off?

Today at 2:18 pm ET/11:18 am PT, your phone should emit a loud tone, start buzzing, and a message will appear on its screen reading "Presidential Alert. THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."

A similar alert message will broadcast over radio and television stations at 2:20 pm ET/11:20 a.m. PT. Here's what you need to know about today's presidential alert.

Credit: FEMA

(Image credit: FEMA)

Why Am I Getting This?

The message is the first test of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. It will go out to all cellphones on carriers who participate in the Wireless Emergency Alert system, which was started in 2012 as part of the 2006 Warning, Alert, and Response Network Act. The test message was originally scheduled for Sept. 20, but was postponed due to severe weather in several parts of the country.

How is this different from other alerts?

Unlike Amber alerts, which are sent out by local agencies to phones in a specific area, a presidential alert is issued by the White House via the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and will go out to all cellphones with a U.S. number.

Can I turn these alerts off?

Unfortunately, you can't opt out of the Presidential alerts as you would other alerts by turning off the notification on your smartphone.

While you won't be able to predict when an actual alert message will be sent out—which would indicate an actual crisis—today's alert is more like the lightning striking the clock tower in Back to the Future: We know when it's coming. If you don't want your phone to start beeping and vibrating today, there are a few things you can do:

1. Turn off your phone. If it's not on, it can't receive the alert.

2. Enable airplane mode. This will deactivate your phone's cellular connection.

In both instances, you'll have to keep your phone turned off for at least 30 minutes. That's because there's an alert window, where your phone will keep trying to warn you. Once that time period has passed, you should be able to turn your phone back on and not receive the alert.

Is the world coming to an end?

No. This is only a test.

Mike Prospero
Mike Prospero

Michael A. Prospero is the U.S. Editor-in-Chief for Tom’s Guide. He oversees all evergreen content as well as the Homes, Smart Home, and Fitness/Wearables categories, but also tests out the latest standing desks, webcams, drones, and electric scooters. He has worked at Tom's Guide for many a year; before that, he was the Reviews Editor for Laptop Magazine, a reporter at Fast Company, and, many eons back, an intern at George magazine. When he’s not testing out the latest running watch, electric scooter, or skiing or training for a marathon, he’s probably using the latest sous vide machine, smoker, or pizza oven, to the delight or chagrin of his family.