National

Alaska's emergency alert test has bugs

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Radio listeners and TV viewers in Alaska witnessed the first national emergency exercise of its kind Wednesday morning, but the test ran into distribution problems around the state.

Radio, television and some cable providers participated in a live statewide test of the nation's Emergency Alert System, which employed a never-used code that would be applied in a national crisis.

"A national emergency action notification has been issued for: District of Columbia, DC," ran a red message banner at the top of the television screen to stations not beset by glitches.

Filling the rest of the screen was a scene of a snowy, wooded mountain, superimposed by a large red stop sign and the words, "Chill! It is just a drill."

The test will help officials prepare for a future national exercise, according to officials.

The three-minute airing — activated from Washington, D.C., by the Federal Emergency Management Agency — was unlike regular periodic tests aired by broadcasters. It was the first official activation of the Emergency Action Notification code, which would give the president access to national airwaves during a real crisis.

Officials considered the test a success, even though some broadcasters did not receive the signal in time and others got a weak connection or only the audio portion of the exercise.

For example, statewide cable provider GCI didn't receive the initial launch signal, although it did get the disconnect signal, company spokesman David Morris said.

Participants will work through the problems, said Bryan Fisher, chief of operations at the Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. He said glitches could be blamed on various factors, such as old equipment or flaws with programming or audio levels.

Alaska was chosen for the initial test run for several reasons, Fisher said. Alaska is well-versed in similar exercises conducted through the national public warning system to test tsunami warnings and Amber Alerts.

Alaska's extreme isolation also cuts down on the chance of the test reaching beyond state lines and potentially causing confusion, Fisher said.

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