Emergency alert test sounds on mobile phones in North Texas, nationwide

Electronic devices across North Texas and the United States sounded off Wednesday as the Federal Emergency Management Agency conducted its first-ever national wireless emergency alert test.

The tone went off at 1:18 p.m. CDT. The subject of the alert read: "Presidential Alert" and text said: "THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed."

FEMA officials estimated that about 225 million devices would receive the alert at about the same time, but the message was broadcast by cell towers for 30 minutes so some people got it later than others. Some got as many as four alerts on their phones; others didn't get any.

In a real emergency, devices would get the alert at the same time or as close to the same time as possible.

Most of the people FOX4 spoke with at the State Fair of Texas during the test said they got the text.

"I felt it, and heard it around with everybody else. So, it makes you check and look to see what's going on. So it's good to at least, to know,” said fairgoer Brenden Lemrick.

But some people said they didn’t know the test was going to happen.

“Yea, I read it and I'm speechless! I don't even know what to say. I'm just like wow,” said fairgoer Isabel Chicas.

The system test is for a high-level "presidential" alert that would be used only in a nationwide emergency. It was completed in coordination with the Federal Communications Commission.

“I think it's necessary. I want to know if we're getting bombed, like right now. If I'm at if I'm at the fair I'd be like, it would be panic. And so that part scares me. But overall it's effective, yes,” said fairgoer Kristy Cheis.

It's not clear how successful the test was. FEMA officials said they would share test result data on how the testing went with mobile carriers to help ensure the system works well in a true emergency.

Phones with mobile carriers that participate in the wireless emergency alert system, which sends out information on hazardous weather, or missing children, got it. FEMA officials estimated it would reach about 75 percent of all mobile phones in the country, including phones on all of the major carriers.

The wireless alert system was launched in 2012. While users can opt out of messages on missing children and natural disasters, they can't opt out of the presidential alerts, which are issued at the direction of the White House and activated by FEMA.

FEMA officials said the administration can only send such an alert for national emergencies or if the public were in peril, according to rules outlined in a 2006 law, and say it can't be used for any sort of personal message from a president.

A second alert on television broadcast and radio went off at 1:20 p.m. CDT. The TV and radio alert has been tested for several years.