FRAMINGHAM (11/12/2003) - Remember when the emergency broadcast system sounded on your television on Sept. 11, 2001? One long piercing beep followed by useful information on how to respond to the news that we'd just been attacked by terrorists. Perhaps you don't remember because it never happened. Neither the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) nor its successor, the Emergency Alert System (EAS), made a peep on 9/11.
The lack of noise sparked a public debate about the system's usefulness.
Conceived as a way for the president to communicate directly with the public in the event of a "national emergency," EBS was retired in the 1990s and replaced with EAS in 1997. The national emergency warning system went digital and was extended to state and local authorities, enabling them to distribute emergency information via broadcast stations.
Today, EAS is used to communicate news about hazardous material spills, severe weather and child abductions, according to Reynold Hoover, director of National Security Coordination at the Department of Homeland Security. But recent reports have sent warnings about holes in the system. A draft assessment of EAS released by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Warning concluded that the government needs to clarify rules about when and how EAS should be activated. In cooperation with the FCC, the DHS is evaluating new ways to disseminate emergency information using cell phones and the Internet.