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Community Champion

Presidential alert

The US test of an emergency alert, scheduled for today, Oct 3, 2018, at 2:18 pm EDT, seems, on initial reports, to be a failure.

 

As usual, communications is a major issue, and common failure, in emergency, business continuity, and disaster plans ...


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9 Replies
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Community Champion

Re: Presidential alert

Everyone in my building got it.

I don't know why they called it a presidential alert. Is the president really going to be sending out alerts? I thought that was called Twitter.

 

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Community Champion

Re: Presidential alert


@rslade wrote:

The US test of an emergency alert, scheduled for today, Oct 3, 2018, at 2:18 pm EDT, seems, on initial reports, to be a failure.

 

As usual, communications is a major issue, and common failure, in emergency, business continuity, and disaster plans ...


Rob,

Please provide some data or evidence of a failure. Links to the reports you cite would be handy. The only data I have (acknowledged to be anecdotal) is that my wife and I both received the emergency test message on our cell phones (Verizon) at the planned time.

 

Besides, being up on Canada, would you see any evidence of the U.S. system alert?

 

Thanks.

 

Dr. D. Cragin Shelton, CISSP
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Community Champion

Re: Presidential alert

I got it along with my colleagues from Canada and Ireland, and we're roaming in SF - so three more points of non-citizen travelers are getting it, but it is 100% for us.

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Community Champion

Re: Presidential alert

> CraginS (Contributor II) posted a new reply in Industry News on 10-03-2018 05:42

> Rob, Please provide some data or evidence of
> a failure. Links to the reports you cite would be handy. The only data I have
> (acknowledged to be anecdotal) is that my wife and I both received the emergency
> test message on our cell phones (Verizon) at the planned time.   Besides, being
> up on Canada, would you see any evidence of the U.S. system alert?

First notice I got of it on various feeds (via email, actually) were reports of
failures. Searching Twitter, in the immediate time after the alert was scheduled,
was interesting: all kinds of news reports alerting people to the alert, and then ...
nothing. (Lots of obviously parody reports, but no reports of actual receipt.)
Searching on "alert" or "alert test" didn't provide much. Searching on "alert
failure," however, turned up a great many reports. In some ways this would be
expected: the failure is the deviation, and therefore gets reported.

In the time immediately following the scheduled alert test, there were no media
reports of either success or failure. However, reports now seem decidedly mixed
(which is a bad thing for an emergency alert system ...)

https://qz.com/1412525/why-you-didnt-get-the-fema-presidential-phone-alert/


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Re: Presidential alert

Another data point.  All the phones in our conference room did go off within about 30 seconds of one another.  I had one of my phones on vibrate.  It did not play the tone, but it did vibrate and display the message.  The other was set to ring.  It gave me the full experience.  Overall, we all felt it worked as anticipated.

 

Expectations for this first test were set at 75%,  Every news article I have seen (including rslade's) reports widespread success and sporadic failures.   Based on what I have seen/read/heard, I'm betting that this first test will exceed expectations.

 

FEMA is collecting feedback from the public and the FCC will be preparing a report, it does seem that they are trying to learn as much as possible. Much like a DR exercise, the only true failure is when one fails to learn from the problems that were uncovered.  Wired has a good perspective:

 

...Wednesday's test was the very first time a nationwide emergency alert has been sent out over text. The entire point was to identify problems with the system so that the FCC, FEMA, and participating cell carriers can work out kinks and improve the warning delivery..

 

 

Also, keep in mind that with emergency communications, the only true requirement is that one hears about it through at least one channel (your phone, a colleague's phone, radio, TV, CD Sirens, twitter, etc.)  Receipt through all channels is not mandatory. 

 

 

Regarding calling it a "Presidential Alert", FEMA reports that

 

The Communications Act of 1934 established the authority for the President to use certain private sector communications systems for priority communications, such as sending alert and warning messages to the public, during national emergencies. [FAQ #12 & 13] 

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Community Champion

Re: Presidential alert

It makes no sense to keep using the Telecommunications Act of 1934 as a supporting tool. Our communications have changed drastically since then.

 

The other "problem" I have with this is this scenario. After the events on 9/11 the nations telecommunications system shutdown and phone calls were nearly impossible. All the circuits were jammed even in states where no planes hit.

 

The same catastrophic failure (although more regionally) happened several years later when an earthquake hit the eastern part of the US, a region not known for earthquakes. Phone circuits were jammed making effective communication impossible for a period of time.

 

If there is a "national emergency" won't it be attempting to go across the same limited communication lines as everyone else? The resulting panic has the ability to DDOS our own communication system.

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Re: Presidential alert


@CISOScott wrote:

 

Phone circuits were jammed making effective communication impossible for a period of time.

 

If there is a "national emergency" won't it be attempting to go across the same limited communication lines as everyone else? The resulting panic has the ability to DDOS our own communication system.

Telcos have the equivalents of multicast and differentiated services.  See, for example "Cell Broadcast" and "Mass Call Events".  

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Community Champion

Re: Presidential alert

So maybe we should be informing everyone that during an emergency send text messages, do not attempt to call.

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Community Champion

Re: Presidential alert


@CISOScott wrote:

So maybe we should be informing everyone that during an emergency send text messages, do not attempt to call.

That is good advise.  In areas of poor cell coverage, I often find that texts have a much better chance of (eventually) getting through. In part, this likely is due to their asynchronous nature and in part due to their lower resource requirements.  This would also hold true in times of congestion. 

 

Also, in times of regional crisis:

  • Minimize your own phone use so the rest of us can also check up on our own families. 
  • Avoid calling 911 for deferrable things because there are only a fixed number of dispatchers to answer the calls.  This allows them to focus on individual calls instead of triage.
  • Turn on TVs and other broadcast media so that you can react in an informed fashion without consuming resources that have limited capacity.

Expanding on my earlier comment regarding differentiated services,  Telcos are able to identify emergency calls/text/data (e.g. the calling or called number was issued to police/fire departments). Telcos reserve a small portion of their capacity for these calls. If the reserved portion becomes depleted, they automatically disconnect a few "normal" calls to replenish it.  In this way, they ensure that you can call 911 even when circuits are jammed with everyone checking on their families.