By Chris Morris
October 4, 2018

At 2:18 p.m. ET Wednesday, most people’s phones exploded with a startlingly loud sound and a message saying “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

Some people’s didn’t though. And the government can’t figure out exactly why.

Obviously, some phones were turned off or out of cell phone range. And if you were in the middle of a long phone conversation, that likely spared you the alert. But even then, many people with good service, sitting next to others whose phones received the alert, never got it.

The alert broadcast for 30 minutes and, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which sent out the test, it should have gone to “compatible cell phones that are switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and whose wireless provider participates in WEA should be capable of receiving the test message”.

There doesn’t seem to be a common link among those who received the text and those who didn’t. Some Android users didn’t get it, some did. Some people with AT&T say they didn’t receive the message. But some did. The story’s the same with Sprint and Verizon.

These are some of the reasons FEMA is looking into to explain the discrepancy:

  • The firmware in newer phones reacted unexpectedly with the alert system
  • Latency issues with radio access nodes
  • The protocols used by cellular companies

FEMA plans to put together a report on the test’s successes and failures in the coming months. In the meantime, it’s asking the public to send comments to FEMA-National-Test@fema.dhs.gov.

If you didn’t get the alert, the agency asks that you include information on the device you use, your wireless provider, whether you were using their phone when the alert went out, and whether others nearby received the alert.

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