TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Bogus Homeland Alerts Hit the Air

Bogus Homeland Alerts Hit the Air

Monty Solomon (
Sun, 7 Aug 2005 15:48:11 -0400

By Kevin Poulsen

As if Florida didn't have enough to worry about this hurricane season,
some residents of the Sunshine State were alerted to a nonexistent
radiological emergency last Wednesday after a National Weather Service
operator fat-fingered a routine test of the Emergency Alert System.

The EAS, a 1997 replacement for the Cold War-era Emergency Broadcast
System, transmits emergency audio and text information to the public
over weather-alert radios and by interrupting commercial television
and radio broadcasts.

A digital header at the top of every EAS alert dictates how long it's
in effect and how far the message should be propagated. It also
identifies the type of event by a three-letter code.

The Florida gaffe occurred when an operator at the National Weather
Service's Tallahassee forecast office inadvertently entered the code
"RHW" instead of "RWT," keying a radiological hazard warning instead
of a required weekly test.

The warning was broadcast to the Florida panhandle and parts of
southern Georgia, said National Weather Service warning-coordination
meteorologist Walt Zaleski. Fortunately, it failed to cause panic, in
part because the audio accompanying the message still identified it as
"only a test," and the office moved rapidly to quash the false alarm.

"They quickly alerted every radio and television station within their
viewing and listening area that the ID had gone out incorrectly and
there was no emergency to speak of," said Zaleski.

A similar glitch at a Las Vegas radio station a day earlier falsely
alerted cable companies, radio and TV stations in five counties to a
national crisis that didn't exist.

That error occurred Tuesday afternoon when KXTE-FM tried to send out a
message canceling an earlier Amber Alert, and instead transmitted an
EAN, or emergency action notification -- a special code reserved for
the president of the United States to use in the event of a nuclear
war or similar extreme national emergency.,1282,68363,00.html

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