Emergency Alert System (EAS) : What is it? How it Works?

May be you have heard about this Emergency Alert System before. Real Emergency alerts are designed to warn you of things that are somehow even more important than clicking and uploading Selfies. But they have always been kind of mystifying with their weird combination of robotic voices and disconcerting sounds.

What is Emergency Alert System?

The Emergency Alert System (EAS) is a national warning system in the United States put into place on January 1, 1997 (approved by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in November 1994), when it replaced the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS), which in turn replaced the CONELRAD System.

The official EAS is designed to enable the President of the United States to speak to the United States within 10 minutes. In addition to this requirement, EAS is also designed to alert the public of local weather emergencies such as tornadoes and flash floods (and in some cases severe thunderstorms depending on the severity of the storm).

A national EAS test was conducted on November 9, 2011, at 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. The most recent National EAS Test was performed September 28, 2016, at 2:20 PM EDT (11:20 AM PDT).

Let’s just ignore that, this was originally designed to enable the President to speak to the United States within 10 min, and just concentrate over the Emergency Alert system.

Now, about that robotic voices in alerts, you might be thinking that, Wouldn’t it just be easier for a human announcer to get on the air and warn us of an impending pandemic hurricane or a Dinosaur attack. Although, that is just a thing for movie. But there are emergency situations like a tornado approaching or a Tsunami.

How EAS Works? Why it is Automated?

Well, it is not easier. It can take time to select the area in which it going to hit and then broadcasting the Emergency Alerts for that particular area. The Emergency alert system or EAS used in the United States is designed to get messages out as quickly as possible. Of course this is difficult to do without automation.

i mean in certain kinds of emergencies like an approaching tornado, you might only have a couple of minutes to prepare. So, there is not necessarily time for a human being to scoot off to the recording studio and to do a few takes then apply some auto-tune then sort out where the message should go and by then you will probably be a couple miles off the ground chatting it up with the God of the wind.

And speaking of where the message should go, those three extremely harsh sounding tones you hear at the beginning of a warning alerts work kind of like those annoying sounds that you would hear from a dial-up modem. They sound like random screeches, but they actually contain critical information about where the warning needs to go.

They are called SAME headers. Which stands for Specific Area Message Encoding. And when those sounds reach a TV or radio station from whichever government authority issued the warning.

Special EAS equipment at the station can decode them and automatically forward information to listeners / viewers about what the emergency is, which are the area it is affecting and what time the warning expires.

Since same code specifies specific geographic regions, you won’t have to worry about getting that super important show you are watching interrupted by an EAS warning for Los Angeles, if you are living in New York.

The next thing you will hear is an attention tone, which is as you can probably guess, is there to annoy you just to get your attention, so hopefully you will look up from your 3Ds Video game system for long enough to learn that there is serial killer on the loose.

So, many have complained about how harsh the tone sounds, I doubt they are going to be changing that anytime soon.

Finally comes the voice!! That sounds like something out of your nightmares matter of factly delivering all the gory details of your impending doom or may be it is just a minor flood twenty miles away. It can be kind of hard to understand for some people.

Again, the automated EAS voices were designed to make message dissemination quicker, even if that comes at a creepy cost. With that in mind, the US National Weather Service has tried to improve the voice over the years going from something that sounded suspiciously like old school Microsoft Sam to a voice that actually is not that terrible anymore.

That’s cool and all but TV, Radio…. please I stream everything, why is the EAS relying on such ancient technology. Well, there are advantages to using radio to warn people, it is a simpler technology than the internet and is likely to be more reliable.

If a major emergency knocks out power and internet service with it, you are going to be pretty happy, if you have still got that battery powered radio. In fact you can buy same compatible radios that pick up special frequencies. That will automatically broadcast EAS alerts, but stay quietly in the corner otherwise.

But if you don’t want to do that, many cellular carriers are now broadcasting EAS messages directly to smartphones. Anyway, so you won’t be left in the dark, if you are just not a TV or radio person and good thing too because nothing ruins selfie time with your squad quite like storm setting cars flying.


So, this is how EAS works, this is a good automated alert broadcasting system. The United States is using this EAS alert system, which can save many lives, just by warning them. So, what do you thing about EAS system? Is there any feature that it lacks? Let me know in comment and we will discuss how useful that feature could be.

Also, students working on Technical projects, related to automation and Electronics systems. Guys!! this is your clue, try to include something new in this.


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