As FEMA and the FCC made preparations for a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system on Oct. 4, 2023, social media users shared warnings that people such as victims of domestic abuse who keep a hidden phone for personal safety should turn the device off so its presence isn't inadvertently revealed when the alert sounds.
Friendly reminder that October 4th @ 1:20 PM CST, FEMA is conducting a test on the EBS. For people in vulnerable positions that need to have hidden phones, TURN YOUR PHONE OFF.#domesticviolence #FEMA #EBS #mutualaid
— Fawkes&Bull 🦊🐮 (@FawkesandBull) September 29, 2023
Please let family and friends know. Domestic violence victims may have a hidden emergency #phone that will need to be turned off. #Alert #FCC #FEMA #domesticviolence #domesticabuse #humantrafficking #narcissisticabuse #victim #smartphone #police #abuse #survivor #warning #EMS pic.twitter.com/cBeHZSJdnl
— 911 Cell Phone Bank (@911CPB) September 26, 2023
These notifications are accurate. According to both FEMA and the FCC, the WEA portion of the test will be directed to all consumer cell phones that are switched on, within range of an active cell tower, and connected to a wireless provider that participates in WEA, at 2:20 p.m. EDT on Oct. 4. Consumers should expect to hear a distinctive, attention-getting tone and receive a text message explaining the reason for the alert.
There is no sure way to opt out of receiving the test alert on a mobile phone except by turning the phone off completely. FEMA explains (emphasis added):
Recent models of mobile phones may include a setting to opt-out of tests and alerts. None of those settings will affect the 2023 national test. If your mobile phone is on and receiving service from a participating wireless provider, you should receive the national test.
While these alerts are invaluable for public safety, they can pose risks to survivors who have hidden phones by alerting the abuser that the phone exists. Receiving alerts such as Amber Alerts is a common occurrence for those with a cellphone and is a feature you can turn off through your phone settings for year-round protection from unexpected alerts. However, this upcoming national test is not an alert that can be disabled or turned off within the device. Therefore, survivors should power off their devices during the test and not schedule phone calls on their hidden cellphone during that time.
For its Sept. 22 story about the upcoming WEA test and its potential unintended consequences for domestic violence victims and survivors, Mashable interviewed Audace Garnett, the technology safety project manager at the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Garnett recommends that people with hidden emergency phones turn them off completely when they're not in active use:
"Survivors should turn off their phones completely," Garnett reiterates. "There are other types of emergency alerts that survivors' phones may receive if they haven't disabled them (and most people have not), such as emergency weather alerts and Amber Alerts... Unlike a WEA test, these alerts are not announced ahead of time, making it even more advisable for survivors to have their hidden phones powered off when not actively using them."