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November 12, 2020

Emergency Alert System Crying Wolf

Consumer Inquiries and Complaints Division
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street NW
Washington, DC 20554
via fax: 866-418-0232

Dear Readers:

On November 12 at 10:00 AM I was reading a web page on my Android SmartPhone when I was interrupted by an emergency alert tone and message:

Emergency alert: severe. Nov 12, 10:00 AM. 'COVID-19 is escalating. See Gov. Dunleavys alert: https://youtu.be/uwQUnIAjthk

Still in my P.J.'s, I had a moment of panic. Are the ICBM's incoming? Is there a tsunami? Should I grab the dog and run? The word 'COVID-19' should have been a tip-off that something was rotten in Denmark, but I didn't notice it at the time.

This was a message from the Boy who cried 'Wolf!' It was about wearing masks and social distancing to avoid COVID-19. which is certainly advisable. But there wasn't anything new anyone needed to do right now, this instant, at 10 AM, to avoid a high probability of death this hour.

This was a gravely inappropriate use of the system. The EAS is for emergencies requiring instant action, not a press release that could perfectly well be covered in the newpaper 24 hours later. The FCC has fined broadcast stations millions of dollars for merely allowing those tones to go out during a dramatization. Why? Because crying wolf totally destroy's the credibility of the system, that's why.

Alaska's own plan warns against crying wolf. It expressly warns that broadcasters and cable operators participate in the local warning system on a voluntary basis:

'Broadcasters and cable operators are expecting the EAS to be used only for very serious emergencies.' 'The first time you trigger the system for a frivolous event, you will lose the confidence of your area broadcasters and cable operators.' -- State of Alaska, Emergency Alert System Plan (2016) (preview.tinyurl.com/2016-ak-eas-plan).

It's not just Alaska. John Gerard Silverthorne, in Summit County emergency alert system is crying wolf (Aug. 16, 2020) complains of the very same thing. They're making regular use of the EAS to tell people to wear masks, rather than reserving it for genuine emergencies like child abductions or approaching fires. preview.tinyurl.com/2020-silverthorne-eas-wolf.

I'm done with the Emergency Alert System. If I feel an earthquake for more than 20 seconds, and have trouble standing up, I don't need no stinking EAS to tell me to hightail it to high ground. And I sure don't need one that tells me to put on a sweater because the governor has cold feet. (In this broadcast, his feet were so cold he still didn't order a private mask mandate.) So how do I turn the bloody worthless thing off?

I use an Android SmartPhone. Go to settings. Search for emergency alerts. Adjust the settings:

AMBER alerts
This was ON. It's for child abduction. This is a message worth the panic. Leave it ON.
Extreme threats
This was OFF. It's for 'head for the hills' messages. Odd that it wasn't on. Of course, ground shaking is a pretty good warning all by itself. But we can time how long it takes the government to catch up and issue an alert. And we can complain loudly if they take too long. I certainly wouldn't want to miss a chance to complain. Turn it ON.
Severe threats
This was OFF and non-selectable until extreme threats was turned on. It's for when you do NOT need to run for the hills. In that case, I sure don't need to be interrupted with a non-urgent message. Make sure it is OFF.
Public safety messages
This was ON. It's for nonemergency recommendations. AHA! Turn this bloody thing OFF!
Required monthly test
This was OFF. Leave it OFF.
Emergency alert history
This is to list the warnings of the Boy who cried 'Wolf!' It's quite useful for filing complaints of misuse.

It looks like the only thing you can't turn OFF is when the President cries 'Wolf!' Boy, does that install confidence. Why can't I turn it off? If the ICBMs are on the way, do I really need to know? How you take cover from a fusion bomb that digs a crater a mile in diameter, hundreds of feet deep, and ignites fires 30 or more miles away? It might be kinder not to know that the end is nigh.

Tell me about things I can outrun. Otherwise, don't bug me with this BS.

And please, please provide some direction to states that the system must never be used unless the recipients need to take some specific new action immediately.

Sign me furious.


/s/ & faxed 2015-11-15 11:45 AKT

Walter Gregg
PO Box 21693
Juneau, Alaska 99802

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