Why No President Has Ever Used the Emergency Alert System

On Wednesday, phones began blaring at 2:20 p.m. to test the Emergency Alert System (EAS). The system — put into operation on Jan. 1, 1997 — is designed to allow authorized officials to broadcast emergency alerts and warning messages to the public via cable, satellite, or broadcast television, as well as AM/FM and satellite radio and cellphones. It’s primarily designed to allow the President of the United States to address the country in the event of a national emergency. However, it's only used as a last-ditch effort to get a message out if the president can’t get to the media. That’s why no U.S. President has ever used the EAS, despite such events as the 9/11 attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Cuban missile crisis. It’s believed that the audio-only EAS messages would actually hinder the ability of the media to present live news coverage. There have been numerous false alarms over the year. On Feb. 1, 2005 in Connecticut, an alert was mistakenly issued calling for the immediate evacuation of the entire state. The message was broadcast due to operator error while conducting a scheduled statewide test. On June 26, 2007, an EAS was accidentally issued in Illinois, when a satellite receiver was accidentally connected to a live system before internal testing was completed, and on July 31, 2022, a local agency in Scott’s Bluff County, Nebraska, inadvertently used the volcano warning code.