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Emergency Broadcast

The Emergency Broadcast is a means of public warning and public annoyance alike. Hearing an Emergency Broadcast warning of actual danger may lead to Oh Crap, Mass "Oh, Crap!", the need for one's brown pants to be brought - in that way it may be the ultimate Brown Note. On the other hand, a test or a warning of something that doesn't affect you (e.g. a missing child warning, a flood when you're on high ground, a tsunami when you're 100 miles inland) may be a Berserk Button and lead to frustration with Crying Wolf. Another frequent frustration is when an actual alert has such horrible sound quality you can't understand what's being said. In many countries, Atomic Hate was the primary reason for the system's creation, and it eventually (and thankfully) ended up never being used for that purpose and being used for many others.

Obviously a major source of Nightmare Fuel. Needless to say, Truth in Television.


Examples:

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    Emergency Broadcast systems by country 

USA The first US Emergency Broadcast system was CONELRAD (CONtrol of ELectronic RADiation), intended only to warn listeners/viewers of an impending atomic attack and to make it hard for Soviet bombers to find American cities by using radio direction finding; in the event of a CONELRAD Radio Alert, stations would all change to 640 or 1240 KHz (in the US AM band). It was eventually renamed the Emergency Broadcast System when advances in communication and weather radar made it possible for state and local authorities to use it to disseminate information about local emergencies. Later, as alerts began to be disseminated through non-broadcast routes (cable and satellite TV, cellphones, weather radios), the system was again renamed, this time as the Emergency Alert System, or EAS.

All TV and radio stations are required to test their EAS systems at least once a month, with weekly tests required for feeder stations. Of course these tests usually warn that there's no actual emergency going on first. This has resulted in the phrase "This is a test. This is only a test" and the old two-tone EBS attention beep becoming a part of popular culture. The new EAS alerts may or may not include a two-tone attention beep but always include an encoded ASCII string, repeated three times, which sounds like an old-school modem and is called a "chirp" or "duck farts" in the business. The string contains specific information as to the type of alert (or test) and the location of the emergency. Some modern weather radios can be programmed to only activate the alarm for alerts that apply to where the radio's installed and only for hazards that would actually be of concern to the area. In some areas the EAS test is unannounced and contains only the three ASCII chirps.

The EAS is usually activated locally for tests and missing children/Amber Alerts. Tornado and severe thunderstorm/ flash flood warnings are also common reasons for activations, occasionally leading to a Crowning Moment of Awesome. Less commonly, fires, tsunamis, chemical spills or other local disasters can result in an activation. State and especially national activations are usually reserved for nuclear attack or any other apocalyptic-level threat. Many times these alerts then redirect to an area's local NOAA Weather Radio station, where an automated voice reports the event's details.

In some areas prone to certain natural disasters (tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.) there is also a yearly disaster drill conducted with a state civil defense agency (in which a full "test warning" is issued, and which is meant to enable schools, hospitals, and even private homes to do a "dress rehearsal" practice for whatever disaster the "test warning" was for). Usually these are geared around various disaster awareness weeks (state tornado drills complete with EAS "test tornado warnings" tend to be around Severe Weather Awareness Week); these are also the last real relics of how Emergency Broadcast systems were tested in the CONELRAD era (full activations as part of state and national "duck and cover" civil defense drills on how to protect one's self against Atomic Hate).

A national EAS test was performed on November 11, 2011—the first official "test activation" of a national level Emergency Broadcast since the CONELRAD era. It showed that nationally, the system needed a little work: Some cable providers switched to their EAS feed station (usually QVC or another Home Shopping channel) without showing the test, others didn't state that a test was happening, and Direct TV viewers were hearing Lady Gaga instead of the test message.

One event where the EAS was not activated was, oddly enough, September 11, 2001. Within minutes of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center, every radio/TV station and network capable of it (outside of kids' networks, who carried on as normal as a safe haven for children who might be traumatized by the news) had suspended its normal programming and was already broadcasting round-the-clock news on the attacks. The EAS administrators quickly realized that they had been outstripped by the news media and stepped out of the way.

On occasion, computer glitches or human error resulted in incidents where emergency alerts were issued accidentally. One egregious example occurred with the older Emergency Broadcast System in 1971, when a clerk intending to send out a routine test alert to all radio stations in the network accidentally loaded a Telex program tape that included the codeword "hatefulness," which was the code signal to the stations that a nuclear attack or other catastrophic emergency had been confirmed and that they were to immediately issue an on-air alert and suspend operations or remain on the air, but broadcasting only important news or survival information pertaining to the emergency. Even worse, a retraction message sent shortly after ALSO used "hatefulness" as the codeword, leading to more confusion. It wasn't until sometime after when a message using the correct codeword, "Impish," was issued that the matter was cleared up.

Canada: Only one province, Alberta, has an emergency warning system. The Alberta Emergency Public Warning System was planned after an F5 tornado tore through Edmonton, but was only picked up by all broadcasters after a F3 tornado destroyed a campground at Pine Lake. The EPWS serves to advise the public of imminent threats such as severe summer weather (tornadoes, thunderstorms, and floods) and civil emergencies, and also broadcasts AMBER Alerts. It generally is not used to disseminate less emergent weather alerts such as snowfall or blizzard warnings, as those are considered relatively common events during most of the winter (and spring, and...).

In addition, Environment Canada runs Weatheradio Canada, which disseminates weather warnings, alerts, and tests on VHF radio.

United Kingdom: The Four-Minute Warning, an emergency broadcast only to be used in the case of Atomic Hate. (This system was dismantled in 1992). Weather warnings and other emergency messages are done through news special reports.

Japan: The Emergency Warning System is used primarily as a very short-fuse warning on earthquakes (e.g. 10 seconds or so between warning and quake at best) and to warn for imminent evacuation due to tsunamis. The tone will almost immediately be followed up with a broadcast from the NHK in both Japanese and English audio or subtitles. The more bells/more urgent the tone, the more urgent or severe the threat is, and its use is reserved for imminent danger such as the aforementioned quake and tsunami warnings or an attack/incoming missile from North Korea and breaking national tragedies such as the death of someone in the Imperial family, and some "types" of the tone are retired. (For example, the tone that was used to indicate the start of WWII has yet to be used again)note .

Also, the Japanese test signal is not entirely standardized across broadcasting stations (even stations within a given city like will differ; examples abound on YouTube) except for the emergency chime, a video/audio description of when a real broadcast would be activated, an emergency tone, and a notification in Japanese that the audible "piro-piro-piro" tone (the data burst, not the bells mentioned above) is only audible on analog TVs, with an additional device required after the digital transition due to it being a data signal to digital TVs.

Much as is the case with the "required weekly test" and "required monthly test" of the Emergency Alert System in the US, the Emergency Warning System is tested regularly in Japan (at least on NHK affiliates) with the "piro-piro-piro" digital header and instructions on what to do in the event of an actual earthquake or tsunami warning (and a reassurance that "This Is Only A Test").

Australia: The Standard Emergency Warning Signal, used primarily in Queensland to warn of cyclones, but now being expanded for bushfires and terror threats in the rest of the country. Possibly, along with Japan's EWS and Alberta's EPWS, one of the few Emergency Broadcast systems to originally be developed specifically for a weather/geological hazard rather than Atomic Hate.

Czech Republic: Alarm sirens are tested the first Wednesday each month, at noon. They are (sometimes) accompanied by voice messages announcing that it's just a test, but especially if you are in a building the only thing you hear is the sirens' wailing.

Austria: Austria has several kinds of alarm sirens that are broadcasted mostly from the firefighter stations. Siren test (every Saturday at noon): 1x 15 seconds steady Fire alarm: 3x 15 seconds steady Warning: 3 minutes steady Alarm: 1 minute wailing All-clear: 1 minute steady All sirens are tested on one Saturday in the year instead of the noon test.

South Korea: Around the fifteenth of every month (usually) at 2pm, civil defense drills are conducted. Sirens go off and all road activity is stopped for fifteen minutes. Pedestrians are encouraged to get off the pavement and take shelter. Radio stations (but not TV) interrupt their broadcasts with the sirens at 2pm and tell people where to go and what to do in case of emergency (usually assumed to be an attack from North Korea). At 2:15pm an all clear siren sounds and normal activity resumes. Sometimes (during increased tension with North Korea) civil defense drills will be held more frequently.

Until fairly recently—and uniquely for an Emergency Broadcast system—civil defense alerts were also broadcasted on the (American operated) Armed Forces Radio and Television Service; this was because (among other things) American instructions during an attack warning in South Korea explicitly included instructions on evacuating the country.

Russia: An old system of power-independent wire radio ("radiotochka") still exists for this exact purpose, for performing emergency broadcasts even during blackouts.

Israel: The Tseva Adom or "Red Colour" system is an emergency system (including not only emergency broadcasts but sirens and announcements on public speaker systems and even alerts sent to smart phones) used primarily in communities surrounding the Gaza Strip to warn of incoming missile attacks. In fact, the civil defense system lent its name to a documentary about children living in areas with frequent "Tseva Adom" alerts—the "Tseva Adom" system is in fact probably the most frequently used attack warning system in the world, with multiple alerts a day not being uncommon (even before the formal outbreak of war between Israel and the Gaza Strip)—a "Tseva Adom" alert is sometimes colloquially known as the "fifteen second warning", as that is usually about how much time one has to get to the bomb shelter.

As of the outbreak of hostilities between Israel and the Gaza Strip on 16 November 2012, "Tseva Adom" has in fact become the generic term for an attack warning in Israel and the "Tseva Adom" system has in fact been officially extended nationwide (example here for a "Tseva Adom" warning outside the Gaza Strip border territories and here for an example of a commercial interrupted by a "Tseva Adom" alert); "Tseva Adom" warnings are also announced on hospital and other major building loudspeaker systems.

As a part of the national rollout of the "Tseva Adom" system, the Israel Broadcast Authority established 531 KHz (in the Israeli/Middle Eastern AM band) as the national channel for announcing of Tseva Adom alerts and civil defense alerts; per this link, the station—normally the main channel of Israel's national broadcast company—goes silent during the Jewish Sabbath (Friday evening through Saturday evening) with the exception of announcing Tseva Adom warnings so that observant Orthodox and Hasidic Jews are not forced to turn on an emergency radio or tune to a frequency to get civil defense alerts (which would normally be a violation of religious law).

A general system of sirens and radio and television emergency broadcasts existed in the rest of Israel (before the national rollout of the "Tseva Adom" system) that was similar to the system presently used in South Korea; this has had "live use" including instructions for people to don gas masks and to retreat to safe rooms during the first Gulf War (due to concerns that Iraqi SCUD missiles could have chemical warheads).

Finland: Finland has extensive air raid siren network across the country (courtesy of being target for both NATO and Warsaw pact warheads during Cold War) that has been tested since 2009 on first working Monday of the month at 12 o'clock, with televised test 40 minutes earlier than that. Television system has been used to warn of local hazards like toxic smoke from fires or escaped criminals.

Mexico: Of the natural disaster variety. The Sistema de Alerta Sísmica (Seismic Alert System) consisting of a network of seismic detectors deployed near the Guerrero and Oaxaca coastline will send an early warning upon detecting a strong earthquake. Recipients in Mexico City will theoretically have 50 seconds to act upon receiving the alert. While TV and Radio do sound the alert, there isn't a public megaphone system to sound the alarm itself in the city, though anyone using a radio reciever tuned to the SAS frequency will get the signal, as well as some schools and government buildings which are directly connected to the Early Warning System.

    Comic Books 
  • An early issue of Epic Illustrated has a one-page strip in which a couch potato is lazing in front of his TV set with a beer. A voice from the TV announces a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The guy swigs a beer as the warning tone sounds, then starts to look uncomfortable and sweat, before finally writhing in agony and melting into a skeleton. In the final panel we see that the world outside has been incinerated. Meanwhile the voice on TV blithely announces "this was only a test."

    Live Action TV 
  • Truth in Television, obviously. Examples of some accidental Apocalypse How alert activations when no disaster really existed can be found on the Mass "Oh, Crap!" page.
  • Any time a car radio is on in a 60s or 70s TV drama, chances are good that an EBS test is being broadcast. That's because the text of the EBS test is a work of the federal government and therefore in the public domain, so producers didn't have to pay royalties or license fees if they used it. Eventually, though, Washington asked the networks to cut down on the practice so that prime-time TV viewers wouldn't become overly used to the noise and simply tune it out.
  • There is an ad for a business in the US called Lumber Liquidators that uses a beep very, very similar to that of the EAS that airs on at least CNN.
  • Being Human: the Devil gets his hands on these in the finale.
  • Radios and TVs air a number of emergency warnings shortly before the attack sequences in The Day After. The broadcasts downplay the danger the public is in and are often ignored; one couple blithely sneaks upstairs to have sex as their young children watch an announcer struggle through an EBS alert. The last EBS announcement, broadcast as the sirens blare in Kansas City and residents downtown succumb to helpless panic, reassures listeners that there is no immediate danger but suggests that travellers in the metropolitan area take a moment to locate a nearby shelter. The first bomb explodes over the city in the middle of the broadcast.
  • The Twilight Zone: The premiere episode of the 1985 version was the apocalyptic "A Little Peace and Quiet," which at the end features a live announcer trembling through an EBS alert, losing his attempts to keep calm as nuclear war breaks out between the Soviet Union and the United States. Unlike The Day After, this EBS underscores the very real danger the public is in and cannot be ignored (as the screams from a panicked public can be heard outside). At one point, the announcer says listeners should take shelter but then – suggesting that doing so is fruitless and everyone's going to die anyway – states, "What's the point? It's over! We're finished! We're ... " after which his voice trails off as he receives a bulletin noting that Russian missiles have entered American airspace. As the radio is broadcasting the EBS, a graphic on a TV has a large "Emergency Broadcast ALERT" (with "ALERT" boldfaced and flashing). At the very end, an explosion can be heard in the distance ... but the main protagonist (a harried housewife who had lost control of her household, and was also disinterested in world affairs) manages to use a pendant she had found to freeze time ("SHUT UP!!!!!"), a split second before the airburst disables everything and seconds before the explosion envelops everything. At that moment, the action – except for her – freezes, and one of the stills shows the TV with the frozen "Emergency Broadcast ALERT" graphic on the screen.
  • The Protect And Survive announcements in Threads as well as the attack warning.
  • The pilot of Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) shows two instances.
    • Gaius Baltar watches emergency broadcasts on his television of the Cylon's pummeling of the Twelve Colonies before a bomb hits their area, and the feeds go to static.
    • Secretary of Education Laura Roslin, aboard a chartered space passenger liner, is in the cockpit as the pilots pick up an emergency broadcast,"Case Orange," designed to go off in case their president and most of the government is believed dead or missing. She is the only government official that responds and becomes the new president of the Colonies by default.
  • Babylon 5 would have Sheridan or Ivanova use the BabComm System to put out announcements to the station population to seek shelter or stay in their homes whenever a major crisis struck. In the fourth season, Ivanova would use the system to announce on the progress of the Vorlon and Shadow Planet Killers and the locations of any colonies that were taking on refugees (some which would be added to the list of destroyed planets). This lead directly to her role later in the season as the Voice of the Resistance.

    Film 
  • Subverted in the 2005 The War of the Worlds, when the standard American EBS announcement that it's "only a test", and not "an actual emergency", plays on the radio of the hero's car as he's driving through the decimated countryside. Presumably, as it is an extreme actual emergency, whoever was supposed to replace this generic transmission with warnings and/or instructions for the public is already dead. Also see the radio show below.
  • Used dramatically in the Made-for-TV Movie Without Warning, which interrupts the opening of another, ostensibly unrelated TV movie to inform the viewer that a meteor is headed towards Earth.
  • Used to let us know when passing into the Dark World in Silent Hill. With a very creepy soundtrack, too...
  • Used at the end of Countdown to Looking Glass.
  • Shown briefly in Testament.
  • Appears briefly in the 1990 remake of Night of the Living Dead. Yes, The EBS can warn you of a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Seen in Legion, but given how fast the apocalypse happens, the only thing transmitted is a still image stating "This is NOT a Test" and an ear-piercing sound.
  • The M.U.T.O. Viral Marketing website for Godzilla (2014) has one when you type in "monster zero," "monster x," or "monster island."
    SCANNING....USER LOCATION ACQUIRED. [ALERT] THE UNIDENTIFIED NATURAL PHENOMENON IS APPROACHING YOUR AREA. PLEASE PREPARE ACCORDINGLY
    • ...or if you type "run" or "escape."
    PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL EMERGENCY SERVICES FOR EVACUATION ROUTES AND SURVIVAL PROCEDURES.

    Music and Sound Effects 
  • Negativland used the WHEN/Syracuse jingle version of the EBS script in their live performance "It's All in Your Head FM".
  • The song "This is Only a Test" by American punk rock band Pennywise opens on distorted television sounds and the line "This is only a test of the emergency broadcast system, this is the product of hysterical mass confusion."
  • Prong used an EBS test message in the song "Test" on their 1994 album Cleansing.
  • The Insane Clown Posse album Bizzar opens with a news broadcast, which is upgraded into a nationwide emergency broadcast in its sister album Bizaar.
  • The Anthrax song "Fight 'Em Til You Can't", which is about a Zombie Apocalypse, opens with a fake emergency broadcast alerting listeners that the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living.
  • The radio edit/commercial version of Blind Dance by Violet UK (the one that isn't the 18 minute Intercourse with You song) is Emergency Broadcast + Apocalyptic Log as an ambient electronic sound piece. No actual tone is included, though, possibly due to Japanese broadcast regulations
  • Fishbone mentions it in "? (Modern Industry)", which is a List Song where they rattle off the call numbers of various radio stations.

    Radio 
  • Famously used as part of a radio show in the 1938 broadcast of The War of the Worlds. The broadcast was formatted as a series of news alerts, and many listeners (reportedly up to a quarter of them) thought that the show was reporting an actual alien attack. As a result of the chaos that ensued, it is rumored that CBS is, to this day, forbidden to use the words "We interrupt this broadcast" for dramatic purposes.

    Video Games 
  • Played for drama in Modern Warfare 2, where the intro sequence to the mission "Of Their Own Accord" is an emergency broadcast system alert containing evacuation instructions for residents of Washington, D.C and its commuter belt. It also warns citizens to "remain alert" because the Ultranationalist troops assaulting the East Coast are killing any civilians they encounter in revenge for the False Flag Operation at the start of the game.
  • Is played with in the Emergency series of PC games, as you are the one who has to clean up the mess.
  • Silent Hill uses an air raid siren, which does a similar thing, but without anyone talking. Hell Is That Noise ensues.
  • Played for laughs in the 1996 PC game Stay Tooned.
  • In The Sims 3, you will hear the US EAS tone sometimes when turning the TV to the weather. No emergency actually ever happens (the game, unlike SimCity, is disaster-free aside from house fires and burglars, unless you are playing the firefighter career.)
  • The intro to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, showing the first alien abduction, ends with a shot of many, many dead people, and the sounds of the US emergency broadcast system in the background.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: In the episode "Homer Defined," when Homer's inattention to warnings that the core temperature is nearing dangerous levels results in a near meltdown, Channel 5 immediately goes on air with a news flash alerting residents to the situation and that only a couple of minutes remain before a sure nuclear explosion. Kent Brockman interviews Mr. Burns, who – despite the wail of the sirens and the imminent danger to Springfield – hides his nervousness as he nonchalantly assures the public that the problem will quickly be resolved and that there is no danger to the town. Reaction around Springfield is, of course, varied (for instance, the students at Springfield Elementary are huddled under their desks in anticipation of a powerful explosion) while the residents at Springfield Retirement Castle turn the channel to watch Wheel of Fortune (and a humorous missolve of "THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN").
  • Freakazoid parodied the EBS in an episode shown in this clip.
  • In Dexter's Laboratory, Dexter's favorite show Action Hank was cut by a test of the EBS. Not knowing it was a test, Dex began solving every emergency he could find to get it to stop before realizing it was just a test.
  • In one episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, Hamton imagines himself being subjected to 60 seconds of the Emergency Broadcast System as a form of Cool and Unusual Punishment.
  • The National Film Board of Canada short The Big Snit takes place during a nuclear war and a TV is shown playing a parody of nuclear attack warnings.
  • Danger Mouse: The news reporter in "The Intergalatic 147" tells of a mysterious white sphere hurtling through space and is on a course for the black hole of Alpha Omega. Turns out the sphere is on a collision course with Earth, and the reporter suddenly turns it into a contest for viewers to name the sphere.

    Fan Fic 
  • Aeon Entelechy Evangelion features an Emergency Broadcast broadcast in English and Nazzadi languages.
  • In the 1983: Doomsday Stories, they're mentioned in passing. But such was the speed in which everything unraveled that at least in some cases, the messages weren't even finished with their first loop by the time the bombs fell.
  • The premise of the Ed, Edd n Eddy Fan Fic The Ed Of The World is that Ed mistakes a test of the Emergency Broadcast System for a warning that the world will end.

    New Media 
  • There have been several hacks of various Emergency Broadcast systems - though doing so is highly illegal in most countries (in the sense that doing it will often lead to a severe prison sentence). Two of the more famous that can be found on Youtube are the Czech Republic TV traffic cam "nuke attack," and the US state of Montana's "zombie apocalypse" alert.
  • This tribute to Superfriends starts with a reporter in the middle of a catastrophe calling out for heroes.
  • YouTube is full of uploads of EBS/EAS tests (as well as those for other systems outside the US.) There are also clips where the sound is used as a screamer, as well as plenty of parodies, remixes, mockups, and YouTube Poop.
    • One terrifying but wholly unrealistic YouTube original horror creation is this. It's the use of the NOAA weather radio emergency tone, civil defense sirens, and voiceover work to create a very simulated Emergency Broadcast of a nuclear attack. This is of course nothing like how a real attack would occur, but it's still scary. Of note: the 3-letter code in this video, EAN (short for Emergency Action Notification), is the one that applies if, and only if, a nationwide threat exists that is a big-enough national emergency to warrant immediate shutdown of all non-news broadcasting on all channels. It's also the only one to have its own dedicated all-clear code, EAT for Emergency Action Termination.
    • Other simulated EAS alerts on YouTube highlight other non Atomic Hate hazards it is sometimes used for (with the alert-type 3 letter abbreviation for said type added afterwards in parentheses), including some that are recordings of actual EAS activations such as:
      • Industrial Fire (Industrial Fire Warning - IFW)
      • Chemical Hazard (Chemical Hazard Warning - CHW. A similar code, RHW, exists for radiological hazard warning, which specifically refers to when a vehicle transporting radioactive material crashes or otherwise spills such material, particularly when it is _not_ from a nuclear power plant. That has its own separate code, NUW.)
      • Tsunami (Tsunami Warning - TSW) (this one is a recording of a real-life warning from the tsunami caused by the 2011 Tohku Earthquake off the Japanese coast)
      • Dam Break (Dam Break Warning - DBW)
      • Earthquake (Earthquake Warning - EQW, real life - from Japan's EWS for the Tohoku 2011 earthquake)
      • Dust Storm (Dust Storm Warning - DSW, real life from storm in the US state of Arizona)
      • Avalanche (Avalanche Warning - AVW)
      • Contagious Disease (simulation - DEW)
      • Contaminated Water (Contaminated Water Warning - CWW - simulation)
      • Food Contamination (Food Contamination Warning - FCW)
      • Volcano (Volcano Warning - VOW - simulation with other warnings)
      • One which no longer is present was Local Area Emergency - LAE, for an escaped wild animal. The LAE code exists, and could be used for such an event, but also for other possible hazards.
      • The rule of thumb: There are, (for the most part) four types of message: Watch (Advisory), Warning, Emergency, and Statement. 3-letter codes for a watch (almost) always end with the letter A, warnings with the letter W, Emergencies with the letter E, and Statements with the letter S. Some exceptions (Tornado Warning is TOR and Severe Thunderstorm Warning is SVR) were grandfathered in. Some of the codes which don't fit into this rubric include the above-mentioned EAN, EAT, along with RWT and RMT (Required Weekly/Monthly Test), and EVI (Evacuation Immediate)

This concludes this test of the Emergency Broadcast System. If this had been an actual emergency, you would have been advised to drop to your knees, grab your ankles, and kiss your ass goodbye.
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