Posted by: lmbshepard | November 7, 2011

If this were an actual emergency we would be screwed

As I’ve prepared for my presentation Monday night on the subject of media serving the democratic process I have thought a great deal about media ownership and how a small handful of corporations decide what we read, watch and listen to. I’ve vacillated on whether McChesney paints an overly dramatic picture of the situation to outrage regarding the state of the media ownership. Just when I thought I found some peace on the subject something happened late last week.

As part of my job, I am helping Gresham’s Emergency Management staff publicize Wednesday’s test of the Emergency Broadcast System. We’ve all seen and heard tests of the Emergency Broadcast System before but Wednesday’s test was to be extraordinary. For the first time all broadcasters, satellite and digital radio and television, cable television and wireline video providers would be participating at the same time for three minutes.  On Thursday, without explanation, FEMA announced the test would be shortened to 30 seconds. From three minutes to 30 seconds? All fired up on McChesney, it didn’t take me long to develop a conspiracy theory about why the test was shortened.

According to FEMA, the “participants provide a critical public service to the nation as the resilient backbone of alert and warning when all other means of communication are unavailable.”  Could it also be that the participants own enough lobbying clout to pressure the government into shortening the test substantially so as not to cut into valuable programming and advertising time ?

In FEMA’s words Wednesday’s test was supposed to  help “identify necessary improvements so that all levels of the system can better serve our communities and deliver critical information that will save lives and property.”I can only hope the change from three minutes to 30 seconds will still provide FEMA and its partners with enough information to test the readiness of the system. Unfortunately, we’ll never know until it is too late.


  1. I wanted to leave a quick note about this before tomorrow’s test. The test was shortened not due to shirking the public good. It’s exactly the opposite. Initially the National EAS test was supposed to be 3:30. This was a concern to broadcasters because unlike the monthly tests we all do, this was meant to air simultaneously on all stations for a much longer period of time than normal.

    The test is scheduled for 11 AM PT, 2 PM ET. People watching during the day are generally older people.Broadcasters talk to daytime viewers all the time. I personally was greatly concerned about people seeing this much longer test, flipping channels, seeing the same test across every station and cable channel and going into a state of panic. The potential for a “War of the Worlds” reaction was real. Stations all had plans in place to reassure viewers during and after the test. Cable had specific worries because their technical systems are so automated.

    The government determined the test could be accomplished within the standard amount of time. When we found out late last week that the test would be reduced to its normal duration, I breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, we are all waiting to see how the test works. That is the whole purpose of the exercise. It’s an information-gathering event so any flaws in the system can be identified and addressed.

    • Perhaps. By the way I do know the purpose of the test. I just know that during a recent conference call with regional PIOs and emergency managers there wasn’t any information as to why the test was shortened at this late date. I am not sure where you acquired your information about this but either way in my opinion shortening the test at this point is suspect.

      Sent from my iPhone

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