Attention: no action is required by the public.

Use unique tones to differentiate tests from real alerts.


October 5, 2023


Steve Berry

Attention: no action is required by the public.

This morning, across the vast expanse of the United States, every mobile device buzzed to life with a "National Alert." The cacophony of sounds rippled through rooms, streets, and public spaces. While the idea was clear — testing a nationwide alert system — the execution was jarring. The alerts arrived at slightly staggered intervals, creating a disconcerting echo effect.

The rationale behind such a test is undeniable. In moments of national urgency, it's paramount that the alert system functions flawlessly. The intent is commendable, but the execution? It leaves room for improvement. Continual exposure to such alerts, especially if perceived as non-urgent, could potentially desensitize individuals, reducing the efficacy of genuine alerts in the future.

Growing up, I was no stranger to alarms. Living near a nuclear power plant meant regular siren tests. Those sirens would wail every first Monday of the month at 2 pm. These sirens, perched high on telephone poles, were designed with a singular purpose and a singular sound. Testing them was straightforward — let them blare.

Contrast that with today's smartphones — marvels of modern technology with a symphony of sounds at their disposal. Surely, FEMA can designate a distinct tone for test alerts, distinguishing them from real emergencies. Our devices are more than capable.

By employing a unique tone for tests, FEMA can still achieve its objective: an end-to-end integration test that examines the network, ensures message delivery, and notifies the individual. But with a more apparent distinction, we can better discern between a trial and an actual emergency.

Steve Berry
Principal, Thought Merchants

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