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Emergency Broadcast

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The answer to the question, "What the Hell Is That Noise?" 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 (yet, anyway) and being used for many others. In some occasions, both in fiction and real life, an emergency broadcast might outright preempt a program.

May involve an Emergency Presidential Address. Obviously a major source of Nightmare Fuel. Needless to say, Truth in Television. See also We Are Experiencing Technical Difficulties.


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    Comic Books 
  • The first issue of Epic Illustrated has a three-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."
  • Very NSFW comedic Zoorama: Death is about a news anchor and a cameraman having sex in a news studio after hours, when some guy accidentally switches on international emergency broadcast. The title comes from their dialog on their last page: "WE'RE LIVE!" — "WE'RE DEAD!"

    Fan Works 
  • 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.
  • Fallout: Equestria - Occupational Hazards features use of the CONELRAD broadcasting system repurposed as a general radio station, while leaving the automated emergency warning systems intact. These systems are triggered three times over the course of the story.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 (1994), 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 Night of the Living Dead (1990). 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."
    • ...or if you type "run" or "escape."
  • The Purge has a truly haunting one given the subject matter it is broadcasting;
    This is not a test. This is your emergency broadcast system announcing the commencement of the Annual Purge sanctioned by the U.S. Government. Weapons of class 4 and lower have been authorized for use during the Purge. All other weapons are restricted. Government officials of ranking 10 have been granted immunity from the Purge and shall not be harmed. Commencing at the siren, any and all crime, including murder, will be legal for 12 continuous hours. Police, fire, and emergency medical services will be unavailable until tomorrow morning until 7 a.m., when The Purge concludes. Blessed be our New Founding Fathers and America, a nation reborn. May God be with you all.'' *cue Silent Hill-esque air raid siren*''
  • Twister had a couple of these, but the big tornado that hit's Jo's aunt's house came with no warning at all. And the end goal of all the storm chasers was to improve tornado prediction enough that these broadcasts could come sooner.
    Aunt Meg: "Jo, it's got to stop. I didn't have any warning. The sirens sounded a few seconds before it hit. I didn't even have time to get down the stairs."
  • The final seconds of Ant-Man and the Wasp show an emergency broadcast playing in Scott's house, and presumably everywhere else, due to the events of Avengers: Infinity War, all while a man-sized ant is in another room playing the drums.
  • Played for laughs in Shaun of the Dead where the authorities are broadcasting the outbreak of zombies on TV, but Shaun just sees it as a boring news show, and keeps flipping the channel.

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Deep End: A flash flood warning is issued for the RV park right before the climax.
  • The Gaunt's Ghosts novel Necropolis takes this and runs with it. When Vervunhive is initially attacked, it not only broadcasts warnings on all local media channels, and activates alert sirens, they also ring the church bells in time with the sirens.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 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 used to be an ad for a business in the US called Lumber Liquidators that used a beep very, very similar to that of the EAS. A law was eventually introduced specifically to stop this practice.
  • 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 (1959): In "The Shelter", the Stocktons and their neighbors learn from a CONELRAD broadcast that unidentified objects believed to be missiles have been detected heading towards the United States. A later CONELRAD broadcast reveals that they were satellites which pose no danger.
  • The Twilight Zone (1985):
    • 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.
    • In "Shelter Skelter", Harry Dobbs and Nick Gatlin watch a television report about an escalating crisis in the Middle East. According to the report, the President and First Lady have left the White House by military helicopter and Russian cities are being evacuated. They later hear a radio report stating that the aircraft carrier Nimitz is in position in the Gulf of Sidra, the armed forces have been placed on red alert and an emergency Cabinet meeting is taking place at an unknown location. It is also reported that the President has issued a statement saying that he would not hesitate to use force to prevent the situation in the Middle East from escalating any further.
  • The Protect And Survive announcements in Threads as well as the attack warning.
  • The pilot of Battlestar Galactica (2003) 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.
  • Medium: in the season 7 episode "Where Were You When?", an Emergency Action Notification interrupts a cartoon on television, causing Allison DuBois to scream in fear and to drop a glass of milk on the floor when she sees it. Turns out it was actually one of her numerous nightmares.
  • When he launched Cable News Network in 1980, Ted Turner promised that the 24-hour news network would never go off the air (at a time when most stations still went dark overnight): “We won’t be signing off until the world ends. We’ll be on, and we will cover the end of the world, live, and that will be our last event … we’ll play ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ before we sign off.” He wasn't kidding. In 2001, the New York Daily News reported that CNN does have a tape prepared for that scenario, a recording of "Nearer, My God, To Thee" over footage of a waving American flag. It's in CNN's video archive system as "Turner Doomsday Video" with the specific instruction "HFR (hold for release) till end of the world confirmed."
  • Parodied on WKRP in Cincinnati. The station has no warning script for tornadoes, so when when a tornado touches down in Cincinnati, Les is forced to make do with a Soviet invasion script.
    Les: The city of Cincinnati has just been attacked by the godless...tornadoes. Citizens are advised to arm themselves immediately!
  • Parodied in an episode of Roundhouse, where instead of using a machine of some sort to imitate the Emergency Broadcasting System's screeching noise, two cast members decided to scream the screech's normal duration.
  • Played for Laughs in the Frasier episode “The Matchmaker”. Frasier and Roz sit in their radio booths, looking incredibly bored, as the EBS “BEEP” is heard. Once it has finished, Frasier addresses his listeners.
    Frasier: This concludes our test of the emergency broadcast system. If this was a real emergency, your radio would be melting in your hands.

    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. A message eerily similar to the intro of the song was delivered by pranksters when the EAS was hijacked in Montana in February 2013 and used to deliver a fake message stating the same message as in the intro of the song.
  • In a possible coincidence, the intro to Stab Me In The Back by X Japan sounds very much like the now-disused NHK war bells signal (3 from the link listed above) converted to a guitar solo.
  • 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.
  • The Emergency Beat is an Electronic Music piece by the indies producer Seth consisting of what happens when the EAS tone is edited, altered, and mixed with a heavily effected stock dubstep loop.
  • Deathcore band Traitors made an album named The Hate Campaign about civil disobedience, which featured a song simulating a realistic Emergency Alert called Curfew.
  • "Four Minute Warning" by Mark Owen of Take That is a reference to the UK emergency warning system of the same name. Every time the chorus repeats a minute is removed from the countdown.

    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)
  • Oddity Archive has an episode on weather warnings and videos on the old EBS.

  • 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 — or a Nazi gas attack made to look like an alien invasion. 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.
  • NBC used its "C-E-G" chime to this effect during World War II. In the event of some great emergency, the chime would be played as "C-E-G-C" to alert listeners and to recall all broadcasting employees back to work. The C-E-G chime still plays at the beginning of special report broadcast interruptions.

    Recorded Comedy 
  • On the album "Take-Offs And Puts-Ons," George Carlin interrupts his "Wonderful WINO'' radio show:
    Bulletin bulletin bulletin! Bulletin bulletin bulletin! Bulletin bulletin bulletin! Here is a bulletin bulletin bulletin...the sun did not come up this morning, huge cracks have appeared in the Earth's surface and giant rocks are falling from out of the sky. Details twenty-five minutes from now on Action Central News, kids!

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • A Bill Engvall comedy bit has him on the verge of a Freak Out because of a weather warning in Texas—which turns out to be for an inch of snow. He then compares this to states like Michigan, where "in an inch of snow, you can still find your golf balls."

    Theme Parks 
  • At Disney Theme Parks:
    • In the queue for Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sully to the Rescue! at Disney California Adventure, a TV plays several ads for businesses in Monstropolis, along with an EBS-type test broadcast from the Child Detection Agency (CDA) whose alarm noise is a monster screaming for thirty seconds.
  • At Universal Studios:
    • The former Kongfrontation attraction at had an Emergency Broadcast System notice appear on the TVs the queue line, notifying everyone to stay indoors due to what was lurking outside.
    • The also defunct Twister...Ride it Out attraction had a tornado warning broadcast playing on a TV as guests entered the main show.

    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.
    • Counts as a bit of nightmare fuel for those in the US playing the game. The start of the mission has no music, no sound, only the Emergency Broadcast. It's designed to sound and seem like it's a REAL emergency broadcast, as if the Russians are invading your suburban neighborhood for real.
  • Is played with in the Emergency! series of PC games, as you are the one who has to clean up the mess.
  • Gone Home has the player's character return to an empty house, with the TV living room having a flood warning on a loop. This is a red herring to why nobody is in the house.
  • 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 backgroundnote .
  • Referenced briefly in the Tony Hawk's Pro Skater series. In Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 1+2, as you're skating through the hallway of electronics in the Mall level, you will hear feint distorted EAS tones playing from the TV monitors on display. It's purely cosmetic, though, so nothing actually happens with it.
  • Parodied in Total Distortion. Your radio aquarium can at one point pick up a test of the "Emergency Distortion Broadcast", followed by a shrill, sustained guitar riff, then ended with, "In the event of an actual emergency, you would have been instructed where to shred."
  • Black Mesa: One of the changes between the mod release and the Steam release was the addition of one heard on a radio after the resonance cascade. It was also used on an ominous webpage foreshadowing the game's release on Steam. After it was released, the webpage became a still-ominous advertisement video both for the Black Mesa Research Facility and the game itself. The EAS can be heard here. A similar variant released closer to the game's release can be heard here.
    • There are 3 emergency broadcasts in Black Mesa. All of them can be heard here. The 3rd one has the United States government issuing an evacuation for all of New Mexico while they bomb Black Mesa and the areas to combat the hostile alien threat.
  • The New Order Last Days Of Europe: An Emergency Action Notification is one of the images displayed in the thermonuclear war superevent.

    Web Video 
  • Episode 11 of Cat Tales ("Solar Flare Warning") by AlChestBreach has the intro interrupted by the Emergency Alert System.
  • Naturally, this is the basis for EAS Scenarios, which feature a wide variety of stories played out through the medium of emergency broadcast messages.
  • LOCAL58:
    • "Weather Service" starts with a government-issued extreme weather warning telling people not to go outside. Moments later, a new warning pops up telling everyone it's actually safe, then things quickly spiral downhill.
    • "Contingency" is a broadcast that was supposed to play after the USA was utterly defeated in a war and urges every citizen to commit suicide. The end of the archive apologies for what they claim is a hoax, but subtle hints throughout the video imply the contingency was real; just broadcast by mistake.
  • In Segment 13 of Winter of '83, the video starts with a weatherman warning viewers that the snowstorm going through Fawn Circle is getting worse and to stay inside while one of these are playing. It turns into a Deadline News moment when the weatherman is killed by a Snow Golem and the creature uses its abilities to replay and alter the messaging so that the people can step outside and be killed by them as well.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons: In "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. When the test finally stops, it shows the final minute of the Action Hank episode, where Hank remarks he just had the greatest fight of his life, and Dexter cries in frustration.
  • 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 has knocked Mars into the black hole Alpha Omega. Earth is the next planet to where the sphere is headed. The reporter suddenly turns it into a contest for viewers to name the sphere.
  • The Woody Woodpecker cartoon "Termites From Mars" invokes this. Woody's TV show is interrupted for a flash that, as the title implies, termites are invading. In a scene later, a termite attaches two electric wires to Woody's beak and turns a pupil in his eyes. Woody's eyes suddenly show the guy from TV who interrupted for the news flash.
  • Visionaries: As Prysmos's advanced technology fails in the opening minutes of the first episode, an emergency news flash states that, though scientists are unable to explain the disruption to technology, "authorities warn against panic." However, it's unclear how many people would have heard this message before their televisions, radios etc. ceased to operate. Also, the technological failure inevitably spreads to the TV studio, causing the monitors to go blank.

    Real Life (emergency alert systems by country) 
  • The United States: The U.S. was the first country to institute a nationwide emergency broadcast system. The first version of it was called CONELRAD and designed for the very specific purpose of warning people that the Soviets were bombing. Then the government learned it could also be used to warn people about local emergencies like extreme weather events, upgraded the system, and renamed it the Emergency Broadcast System. The modern version is known as the Emergency Alert System or EAS, because it's not just for broadcast — you can also get alerts on satellite and cable TV, weather radios, highway signs, or your cell phone, in addition to radio and OTA television. Modern weather radios and cell phones are sufficiently advanced that they can turn on to broadcast a warning (useful if it's the middle of the night).
    • The system is tested frequentlynote  and has been for a long time. Much of the pop-culture awareness of the system derives from these tests, particularly their admonition that "this is only a test" and that if this were a real emergency, the broadcast would include important instructions. These tests also introduced viewers to the loud attention beep,note  although modern broadcasts rely more on the three repeated "chirps" (which are actually an encoded ASCII string with specific information about the emergency type and location); they're also delightfully called "duck farts". The CONELRAD era was particularly famous for its test activations, often done in conjunction with "duck and cover" civil defense drills of how to survive a nuclear attack; sometimes these drills are still done today, usually to prepare for a natural disaster. Places particularly prone to natural disasters (e.g. near chemical or nuclear plants, or in a tornado-prone area) might also have warning sirens in conjunction with the alert, many of them repurposed air raid sirens from the Cold War era. In smaller communities, these sirens can be used to summon volunteer firefighters, but pagers are becoming more common for this purpose.
    • The government is very strict about works of fiction using the EAS tones; they can only actually be used in a test or an actual emergency. In fact, inserting a frivolous EAS tone could lead to an accidental activation of the real alert hardware. The FCC levies heavy fines on broadcasters who break this rule.
    • Although the EAS can be activated for a wide variety of natural disasters (e.g. flash floods, tornadoes, wildfires, tsunamis, chemical spills), it's most often activated for an "Amber Alert", which alerts the public to a child abduction (and often gives details of the suspect's appearance or car), essentially an attempt to mobilize people to try and catch the suspect before he gets away. However, the National Weather Service has developed an extensive weather radio system that automatically generates severe weather alerts and can also deliver regular EAS alerts as well. It can even broadcast warnings to specific towns — when they did this by county, people kept ignoring the warning thinking it didn't apply to them specifically.
    • Interestingly, EAS was not activated on September 11, 2001, probably the only event in the system's history when it might have been relevant to give a nationwide alert. However, as nationwide emergencies go, it was so well covered that EAS wasn't necessary; when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, most channels had suspended their normal programming to cover the event in record time (even though they couldn't be sure it wasn't just a horrendous accident). Even though only fifteen minutes passed between the two impacts on the World Trade Center, by the time the second plane hit (and everyone knew this was no accident), almost every channel in the country had already suspended its normal programming and was covering the event live. As such, anybody watching TV could learn way more about what was happening than from a regular EAS activation. (This, of course, has not prevented conspiracy theorists from suggesting its lack of activation might be for a more sinister reason.)
    • On occasion, the system hasn't worked right:
      • In 1971, 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 day's codeword — long story short, they accidentally convinced every radio station in the country that the government had confirmed a catastrophic emergency of some kind and would broadcast important news shortly. To add insult to injury, the attempted retraction message had the wrong codeword, so they had to do it a second time. Here are a couple of recordings of the event.
      • A nationwide EAS test in November 2011, which was the first official nationwide "test activation" since the CONELRAD era, showed that 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 failed to state that it was a test, and DirecTV viewers heard Lady Gaga instead of the test message. They fixed the problems by the next time they did a nationwide test in 2016.
      • In January 2018, the state of Hawaii was erroneously given an alert that a missile was headed towards them. It took 30 minutes for them to declare it a false alarm. State officials blame a worker who pushed the wrong button. Here's a TV recording of the incident.
  • Canada: Canada would begin dabbling in alert systems when the province of Alberta implemented its own warning system, the Alberta Emergency Public Warning System, following a devastating tornado that tore through Edmonton on July 31, 1987. Alerts could be disseminated through radio and TV to warn of threats like severe weather, wildfires, terrorist threats, and other threats to human safety. The system was replaced by Alberta Emergency Alert, which uses a distinctive two-tone alarm and, in addition to television and radio alerts, can also give alerts via social media, apps and messages sent directly to phones, in October 2011. On March 31, 2015, the entire nation would launch their own national warning system, Alert Ready, which is distributed nationwide to TVs, radios, and cell phones. Alert Ready was first envisioned as a weather warning system but is also used for civil emergencies, flood warnings, and Amber Alerts. Most provinces have also used it during the 2020-2021 pandemic to disseminate lockdown notices. It shares the same two-tone alarm used by Alberta Emergency Alert.
  • The United Kingdom: The British emergency broadcast is limited to the "Four-Minute Warning", so called because its sole use was to warn the public that the Soviets were attacking, and the Soviet Union was close enough to Britain that they only had four minutes' advance notice before the bombs started dropping. The system was dismantled in 1992, not long after the Soviet Union was. Weather warnings and emergency messages are typically done through special news reports. The networks are particularly prepared for special broadcasts announcing the death of a member of The British Royal Family. They rehearse it for pretty much every member, each of whom has a protocol named after a bridge (e.g. "London Bridge" for the late Queen, "Forth Bridge" for Prince Philip, "Menai Bridge" for the King). The government retains the legal right to take over the broadcasting of the two biggest networks (the BBC and ITV) in the event of a national emergency but has not to date used this power. As a general rule of thumb, if the BBC ever interrupts programming with the phrase “This is the BBC from London,” it’s either because of the above or because something horrible is happening or is about to happen - these include natural disasters, the death of the Prime Minister, terror attacks or even in the unlikely event of a nuclear strike. In addition, the UK adopted a Wireless Alert System similar to that used in the USA, which sends emergency alerts as notifications to compatible phones.
  • Japan: The Japanese Emergency Warning System (or "J-Alert" system) is really slick and dates back to before World War II for use by the NHK, Japan's national broadcaster. There are three sets of "bell" tones, and the more urgent the tone, the more urgent the emergency: the first is for natural disasters and civil defense warnings, the second is for large-scale disasters and to announce the death of the Emperor or a member of his family, and the third is for declaration of war or national emergency and hasn't been used since World War II. It's technologically advanced enough to give earthquake warnings (well, 10-15 seconds in advance, but it's better than most places) and also gives detailed tsunami warnings within minutes, with a map of the hardest-hit areas. The NHK being a national broadcaster, it's also well-equipped to give emergency bulletins with information handed to them by the government. NHK alerts also include a data burst (which makes a "piro-piro-piro" sound on analog TVs) which includes second-language instructions for bilingual TVs, so instead of Japanese, you could hear instructions in English, Chinese, Korean, or Portuguese.
    • Many people know the "J-Alert" from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and the accompanying tsunami. Videos on YouTube of TV broadcasts at the time showed them warning of the earthquake before it happened and sometimes showing the shaking if it was broadcasting something live (NHK was showing the Japanese Diet discussing something and appearing annoyed that they were being interrupted by an earthquake), then showed a studio announcer with an update (with the shaking still going on), before switching to the emergency alert system showing the map of Japan and which bits were about to get hit by a massive tsunami. Some versions show emergency instructions in English and Japanese being given simultaneously, so you can't understand either one.
    • In August 2017, North Korea tested a missile by flying it over Hokkaido and landing it in the Pacific Ocean. The NHK and J-Alert systems weren't actually in sync on this occasion (well, what do you do when a crazy dictator starts actually lobbing missiles over your country?), but it was the first activation of the system for the action of a foreign state since World War II. The J-Alert tone used was also synced to air-raid sirens in Hokkaido.
  • Australia: The Standard Emergency Warning Signal was originally developed in the state of Queensland to warn of cyclones, and was expanded nationwide to warn of bushfires and civil emergencies. It's notable for using a siren that's supposed to be scary, but actually sounds pretty silly, and has been compared to something out of a game show; most countries follow the American model and design their emergency tones to be naturally jarring to listen to.
  • South Korea: In addition to standard emergency warning systems, South Korea conducts monthly intensive civil defense drills. Around the fifteenth of every month at around 2:00 pm, sirens go off, all road activity is stopped for fifteen minutes, pedestrians are encouraged to get off the pavement and take shelter, and radio stations (but not TV stations) interrupt their broadcasts and give instructions of where to go and what to do in case of an emergency. After fifteen minutes, an all-clear siren sounds, and normal activity resumes. This is almost entirely to train for a possible attack from North Korea, and drills are sometimes held more frequently when tensions with the North are high. For many years — and uniquely for an emergency broadcast system — separate civil defense alerts were broadcast on the United States Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, partly because they explicitly included instructions to Americans in South Korea on evacuating the country.
  • Russia has a system from the old Soviet days which makes use of the radiotochka, a system of power-independent wire radios that could broadcast emergency alerts even during blackouts.
  • Israel: The Tseva Adom or "Red Colour" system is an emergency alert system that announces alerts on TV, radio, cell phones, and through an extensive national network of public speaker systems. Notably, it's probably the most frequently-used emergency alert system in the world, and certainly the most used for civil defense reasons, thanks to the long-standing Arab–Israeli Conflict. The speaker system has been in place since at least the first Gulf War and was partly to relay instructions for putting on gas masks and retreating to safe rooms (due to concerns that Iraqi SCUD missiles could have chemical warheads). The "Tseva Adom" system was developed in communities bordering the Gaza Strip (a frequent source of missile attacks) and derives its name from a famous documentary about children living there, but at least since 2012 the name is used to refer to the nationwide system. The alert is sometimes colloquially referred to as the "fifteen second warning", as that is usually how long you have to get to a bomb shelter. Israel's national radio broadcaster even has an automated system for broadcasting Tseva Adom alerts during the Sabbath, when it normally doesn't broadcast, so that observant Jews don't have to turn on a radio to listen to civil defense alerts.
  • Mexico The Sistema de Alerta Sísmica ("Seismic Alert System") is Mexico's main emergency alert system, developed in Guerrero and Oaxaca as an earthquake early warning system. The system is advanced enough that a strong earthquake can be detected in these areas and a warning given to Mexico City (one of the single most populous places in the world, and particularly susceptible to strong earthquakes) up to 50 seconds in advance of the shaking. In 2014, the city installed a large public megaphone system to announce alerts, and they're also broadcast through TV and radio (while some use the same "duck farts" as the American EAS, others use a more well known "wow" sound).
  • France: The Réseau National d'Alerte ("National Alert Network") was a network of about 4500 air raid sirens that do a test every first Wednesday of the month, at midday. However, many of these sirens date back to World War II and haven't been well maintained since then, so in 2009, the government revamped it as the Système d'Alerte et d'Information des Populations ("Populations' Alert and Information System"), or SAIP, which aims to create a more efficient network that would more easily indicate the nature of the emergency and would also broadcast alerts over TV, radio, smartphones, and variable message signs. Notably, it has a specific tone for dam failure.
  • The Philippines basically borrowed their Emergency Warning System from Japan (mostly because they use the same digital TV standard). The system is used to warn of earthquakes, volcano eruptions, typhoons, and other natural disasters which are common in the Philippines. It's also used for terror attacks and to provide evacuation orders. Alerts are coordinated through the major national broadcaster ABS-CBN but are required to be carried on all networks (although they're not very well standardized).

"This concludes this test of the Emergency Broadcast System. If this had been an actual emergency, you would have been advised to crawl under a desk or table, grab your ankles, put your head between your knees, and kiss your ass goodbye."


Video Example(s):


The Purge

The Emergency Broadcast System announcing the commencement of the annual Purge Night, where all crime, including murder, becomes legal within a twelve-hour period.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / EmergencyBroadcast

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