The EBS Authenticator Word List
and other old EBS documents

Note:  New material was added to Section Four on April 21, 2007.


Introduction

The Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) was a national plan for dissemination of urgent messages to the public in case of a national emergency, or life-threatening local emergency, such as a tornado.  It started out as Conelrad in 1951.  Under the Conelrad plan, all radio stations were to go off the air in the event of a national emergency, except for one designated station in each region which would transmit on either 640 or 1240 kHz.  The plan was to pile all the radio stations on these two frequencies so that an invading air force could not use the signals as navigation beacons.*

EBS replaced Conelrad in 1963.  EBS was subsequently replaced by the Emergency Alert System (EAS) in 1997.

Section One:  The teletype machines themselves
Forty years ago, the Emergency Broadcast System was still relatively new and the cold war was slowing down, but still underway.  Virtually every radio and TV station had a teletype machine from which came the Associated Press (or in some cases United Press International) news.

Click to enlargeThe teletype machine typed out news almost continuously, at 66 words per minute (60 wpm for UPI, I believe), pausing only in the wee hours of the morning, after the completion of low-priority items like "This Day in History".  Hungry young disk jockeys and chain-smoking news announcers would occasionally have to change the ribbon or the paper in the teletype machine, and make sure it was working properly, because it was a crucial link to the rest of the country and would be vital during a national emergency, if one were to materialize.

This short video clip from the Teletype Gallery shows a similar machine in operation.

Let me see if I can describe how terribly slow the AP teletype system was.  The teletype system ran at 50 baud, officially 66 words per minute, which averaged slightly over six characters per second at full speed.  They way teletype machines were used by wire services, full speed was the only speed.  If the same machine was connected to an inexperienced typist manually entering text, you'd hear the printer "hunt and peck" along with him, but in day-to-day operation, the system was fed pre-recorded segments of punched paper tape.

Each character was sent with a start bit, five data bits, and 1½ stop bits.  But the "characters" included spaces, carriage return, line feed, an alarm bell, and two codes which selected "letters" or "figures".  There were no lower-case letters, no italics, no underlines, no bold characters.  All numbers and punctuation are in the "figures" group, so if you wanted to send "HELLO." on a line by itself, you would send [H] [E] [L] [L] [O] [figures] [period] [letters] [carriage return] [line feed].  This would take about 1.6 seconds.  If you have DSL internet service, that is probably more time than it took your browser to load this entire page.  (Well… the text portion anyway.)  Even a 9600 baud modem, probably the slowest dial-up internet connection you've ever seen, is more than a hundred times as fast as the old teletype system.

The paper in a teletype machine was supplied by the wire service (AP or UPI).  It was usually light yellow and rather coarse, and came on a cylindrical roll, about 8½ inches wide, weighing about three or four pounds, that would last about one day.  The machine itself was always very warm, because it printed all the time, and it always smelled like a mixture of lubricating oil and ink.  The data for the printer came over a leased phone line, that is, a direct line from the phone company, as opposed to a dial-up line.  Changing the ribbon or the paper had to be done quickly, because when the machine was turned off, incoming data was lost forever.  There was no buffer.  At about the time a solid-state data buffer became feasible, the old teletype machines were replaced by 1200-baud "high speed" dot matrix printers.  That happened in about 1978.

Updated 1/12/2007:
Video of teletype machine:  Poor quality video, but the second half of the clip shows the inner workings of the Model 20 teletype machine.  It seems to be printing upper and lower case, but the video is so bad, it's hard to tell.

Another video clip shows the much faster Model 28, apparently running at 100 wpm.  This machine has more moving parts than a Swiss wristwatch, and it's amazing that it could hold together for more than a week at a time.

Updated 2/3/2007:
This high quality version of the Model 28 video clip is now available, courtesy of Phonebooth.org, but please note that the file is about 45.4 megabytes.

Added 5/15/2008:
Just one more rabbit trail:  The Teletype Model 35ASR has a paper tape punch / reader that makes it possible to send pre-recorded messages at full speed.



Section Two:  The Authenticator Word List

Authenticator Word List. Click to enlarge. (1.5 megabytes) At every station, somewhere close to the teletype machine, there was an envelope containing the Authenticator Words for activation of the Emergency Broadcast System.  It is difficult to imagine a situation when knowledge of the Authenticator Words would have made any difference, because if someone were to have maliciously originated a false National Emergency alert on the teletype circuit, it would have been easy enough to get a copy of the Authenticator Words for that day and authenticate a false alarm.  Anyway, the Authenticator Words were to remain in a sealed envelope and were to be available to the operator on duty, in the event of an FCC inspection, which was more likely than a nuclear attack, although FCC visits are pretty rare.  (I've worked as a broadcast technician since 1971 and I have seen an FCC inspector in a broadcast station only once.  And even that incident wasn't a routine inspection... but that's another story.)

The envelope was about 4-by-9 inches and contained a single 8½ by 11 inch page of information.

Authenticator Word List. Click to enlarge. A new Authenticator Word List arrived in the mail every three months and the old list was almost always tossed in the trash.  Once in a while someone would take the old list home, file it away, and wait for the internet to be invented so he could show everyone what the list looked like.

Almost all the words were two or three syllables, and only rarely were they less than six letters long.  There was one activation word and one termination (all clear) word for each day of the month, and a few extra words for days like September 31.

Authenticator Word List. Click to enlarge. If the alert message was received on the teletype, and the Authentication Word matched, the announcer was to supposed to send the attention signal, (and by that I mean the old attention signal), then begin reading the alert message scripts and stand by for further instructions.  See details below.

Authenticator Word List. Click to enlarge. Here is another list from later that year.  It doesn't look like much, just column after column of peculiar words which seem rather dull.  But if there had ever been a reason to rip open the envelope and check the password for that day, it would have been a tense moment indeed.

Authenticator Word List. Click to enlarge. Here is a closer look at the October through December list.  I don't want to burst anyone's bubble, but I really don't think this system would have held up under any great pressure.  Very few announcers that I knew in 1973 would have stayed at their posts, had they been convinced that an enemy attack was imminent.

Authenticator WordI'm glad we were never put to the test.  The old Emergency Broadcast System has been replaced and modernized twice since these old lists were part of the system.  The latest version — the Emergency Alert System or EAS — isn't entirely free of bugs, and is tested far more than is necessary, but it carries much more information than the old EBS system.  Some sort of alert system will almost certainly be a part of every broadcast station from now on.

Incidentally, here is an interesting web page about the EBS false alarm of February 20th, 1971.

A tip of the hat to KI4QGJ for pointing out these three items:

WOWO EBS False Alarm:  Aircheck from the morning of February 20, 1971.

Pre-recorded EBS warning which was to be used in the event of a national emergency.

Conelrad test, 1956.  I wasn't aware of this, but apparently there once was a nation-wide Conelrad test where every AM radio station either went off the air or switched to 640 or 1240 kHz.

The Editor says...
YouTube appears to be a good source of audio and film from the Cold War, if you have all day to explore it.



Updated 10/11/2008:
A helpful reader warmed up his scanner and sent in a couple of relevant documents from 1994:  An EBS Authenticator List and its envelope.  Instead of code words, this list uses pairs of words from the ICAO phonetic alphabet.  This technique is somewhat less secure, if you ask me, because it provides for only 676 possible passwords for EBS activation or deactivation.

Notice also that the authors of the 1994 lists continued the tradition of providing authenticators for February 31 and other impossible dates.

As usual, click to enlarge.

1994 Authenticator List

1994 Authenticator List




Sidebar discussion:
The latest version of the EAS may be more helpful than you'd like.

FCC's Emergency Alert System Coming to Your Cell Phone Soon.  The Emergency Alert System (EAS) has "fallen into disarray and needs major reform," concluded FCC Chairman Michael Powell recently as he announced agency plans to revamp the system, according to a report in Broadcasting and Cable.

Bear in mind that it was the FCC that devised the current EAS system.  Now, after they have added more and more uses for it, such as Amber Alerts, they say it has "fallen into disarray".  Supposedly the new modernized version of EAS will be able to turn your TV or radio on, if it isn't already.  (Why not just make it illegal to turn the TV off, like the telescreens in Orwell's 1984?)  Imagine the power surge when an alert goes off in a major market, and millions of TV sets power up at the same time!

Charles W. Rhodes discusses this type of feature in his article, Poised at the Great Analog/DTV Divide.  He says, "Americans buy approximately 20 million TV receivers a year.  The average life of a TV set is said to be eight years."  Thus a new function can be incorporated in new television sets (like receiving alerts while the TV appears to be off) and most people will have it within one decade.

On the other hand, it might take only a few minutes to change the behavior of TV sets all over the country.  Here's how:  Digital TV broadcasts in the U.S. will soon have a number of new features that you may or may not like.  One of them is called the Software Download Data Service, which is a means of upgrading the software in TV receivers by having the TV stations broadcast the new software to any receiver that will accept it.  But don't assume that all the software upgrades will originate from the manufacturer.  This is potentially a dream come true for hackers, advertisers or socialist dictators.  You may find your TV set suddenly has new "features" that you don't really want… like you can't turn it off, you can't turn down the volume, you can't change the channel.

It sounds like an idea for a sci-fi novel.


Related material:

EAS hacked in Montana.  A terrifying emergency broadcast shocked local Montana residents on Monday [2/11/2013] when KRTV's midday programming was interrupted by a report of "dead bodies" "rising from their graves" in several counties. [...] KRTV posted a notice on the internet apologizing for the mistake and blaming a hacker for the erroneous report of a zombie attack.

Insecurity plagues US emergency alert system.  The EAS is increasingly under fire by critics who charge that its national mission is obsolete in an era of instant 24-hour news coverage, and that the technology underlying it is deeply flawed.  One of the most stinging criticisms:  that the EAS is wildly vulnerable to spoofing, potentially allowing a malefactor to launch their own message that in some scenarios could quickly spread from broadcaster to broadcaster like a virus.

This Is Only a Test.  Remember when the emergency broadcast system sounded on your television on Sept. 11, 2001? ... Perhaps you don't remember because it never happened.  Neither the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) nor its successor, the Emergency Alert System (EAS), made a peep on 9/11.  The lack of noise sparked a public debate about the system's usefulness.

Alert System's Deafening Silence:  While there is little doubt most Americans consider the September 11 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon to have been a national emergency, the nation's emergency-alert system remained silent.  Why?  And if the outrages of September 11 did not constitute a national emergency, what would?

The Editor says...
The easiest explanation for the silence of the EAS is that every network affiliated TV station was talking about nothing but the attacks for several days, starting just after the first plane hit the World Trade Center.  Since it was a surprise attack, there was no way to issue a warning beforehand.  The only way for EAS to come into play would have been if NORAD or some other agency had seen the attack coming.  Thus the EAS is good for tornado, volcano, flood, blizzard and tsunami warnings, but not very helpful in the event of an earthquake or surprise attack.

EAS Test Mistakenly Calls for the Evacuation of Connecticut.  Despite what residents may have seen on television, the state of Connecticut was not ordered evacuated on Tuesday [2/1/2005].  State emergency management officials said a worker entered the wrong code during the weekly test of the emergency alert system, leading television viewers and radio listeners to believe that the state was being evacuated.

Bogus Homeland Alerts Hit the Air.  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 [7/27/2005] after a National Weather Service operator fat-fingered a routine test of the Emergency Alert System.

Tsunami warning inadvertently sent out.  A National Weather Service worker inadvertently sent a tsunami warning to Alaska radio and television stations Monday [2/6/2006] as employees were reviewing procedures to issue such alerts.

Crisis Alert in Critical State.  Even if the president were to declare a national emergency and take over the nation's airwaves for an announcement, cumbersome alert systems and the glut of unmanned radio stations would make it hard to get the word out.  Never mind if the warning came in the middle of the night when most Americans aren't paying attention to TV or radio.

Fraudulent Amber Alerts:  Amber Alerts are general notifications in the first few hours after a child has been abducted.  The idea is that if you get the word out quickly, you have a better chance of recovering the child.  There's an interesting social dynamic here, though.  If you issue too many of these, the public starts ignoring them.  This is doubly true if the alerts turn out to be false.  That's why two hoax Amber Alerts in September [2007] are a big deal.  And it's a disturbing trend.

Updated 8/4/2006:
Bush Orders Update of Emergency Alert System.  President Bush yesterday [6/26/2006] ordered Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff to overhaul the nation's hodgepodge of public warning systems, acknowledging a critical weakness unaddressed since the 2001 terrorist attacks and exposed again last year by Hurricane Katrina.  The Emergency Alert System, best known for weather bulletins and Amber Alerts for missing children, should be upgraded to explore communicating by cellphones, personal digital assistants and text pagers targeted to geographic areas or specific groups, U.S. officials said.

Updated 8/15/2008:
Missile message mistakenly played in Japan.  Government workers throughout Aichi Prefecture in western Japan heard a message saying there was a ballistic missile attack after it was mistakenly played. ... Local government spokesman Masashi Aoyama said the message was broadcast by accident on Wednesday [8/13/2008] during a test at city hall in Nagoya, 170 miles west of Tokyo.

Updated 6/11/2007:
FCC Takes Action to Strengthen EAS.  The Order requires EAS participants to accept messages using Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), the groundwork for Next Generation EAS delivery systems, no later than 180 days after FEMA announces its adoption of standards in each case.

US unveils EAS for mobile phones and computers.  The US government unveiled a communications system that in case of emergency should soon allow it to send SMS alerts to Americans' mobile phones and computers.  "We have the ability to do this.  It's a major step," Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Director David Paulson told reporters outside the US capital as he unveiled the program's design.

Editor's Note:
In the article above, SMS stands for Short Message Service.

Updated 4/10/2008:
Nationwide text message alert system approved.  Federal regulators Wednesday [4/9/2008] approved a plan to create a nationwide emergency alert system using text messages delivered to cellphones.  Text messages have exploded in popularity in recent years, particularly among young people.  The wireless industry's trade association, CTIA, estimates more than 48 billion text messages are sent each month.  The plan stems from the Warning Alert and Response Network Act, a 2006 federal law that requires upgrades to the nation's emergency alert system.

FCC Approves Emergency Alerts Via TXT Messages.  The FCC says in an effort to better warn you about emergencies a new text message warning system will be in place.  The text messaging system comes in response to the Warning, Alert and Response Network Act (WARN Act) which required the FCC to establish new and effective ways of alerting the public to emergencies.

Cellphone text-alert system OK'd.  Federal regulators Wednesday [4/9/2008] approved a plan to create a nationwide emergency-alert system using text messages delivered to cellphones. Texting has exploded in popularity in recent years, particularly among young people.  The wireless industry's trade association, CTIA, estimates more than 48 billion text messages are sent each month. ... Cellphone subscribers would be able to opt out of the program.

Full text of H.R. 5556 [109th]:  Warning, Alert, and Response Network Act.  [Scroll down to the bottom] The Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information of the Department of Commerce may borrow from the Treasury beginning on October 1, 2006, such sums as may be necessary, but not to exceed $106,000,000, to implement this section.  The Assistant Secretary shall reimburse the Treasury, without interest, as funds are deposited into the Digital Television Transition and Public Safety Fund.

FCC approves rules that would create national cell phone alert system in U.S.  U.S. federal regulators have approved a plan to create a nationwide emergency alert system using text messages delivered to cell phones.

FCC: Presidential emergency alerts to be tested.  [Scroll down]  At the same time, said [Lisa] Fowlkes, the FCC is looking at how wireless broadband could also enhance the EAS as part of a recommendation that was in the FCC's National Broadband Plan from last year.  The idea is to leverage broadband and the Internet for emergency alerting with the "Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) being developed by FEMA and the wireless industry."

Added 10/3/2007:
Society of Broadcast Engineers opposes live code testing of EAS.  The SBE asserts that these cry-wolf alerts will potentially cause public alarm, weaken confidence in the EAS for real alerts and discourage broadcaster's involvement with volunteer EAS programs.  Broadcasters and cable systems decode the EAS data and send the information directly to scrolling messages on TV screens and radios.  One result of live-code tests would be that TV's viewed by the deaf and hard of hearing, and TVs in public places would not show any indication that the message is not a real alert.

Update 1/31/2011:
Emergency Alert System Test Concludes In Alaska.  As part of ongoing national preparedness planning efforts, The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the State of Alaska, and the Alaska Broadcasters' Association (ABA) conducted a statewide live-code test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) in Alaska yesterday (on Wednesday, January 26, 2011, at 10 a.m. local time).

Added 5/11/2011:
Emergency Alert System to Be Announced in NYC.  A new national emergency alert system that will send messages to cell phones during disasters will be launched in New York City by the end of the year.

Emergency alert system set to launch.  If you get an urgent message on your cell phone from President Obama later this year, it's not a prank.  Under a new emergency notification system being announced tomorrow by Mayor Bloomberg and federal officials, anyone carrying an "enabled" mobile device within range of a cell phone tower would be alerted what to do in case of emergency.

Your president is calling.  "The system — called PLAN or Personal Localized Alerting Network — uses cell phone towers to send messages to everyone currently in a certain area, regardless of whether they're visiting from out of town or have a phone registered elsewhere.  People won't have to register in advance to receive the alerts.  "The messages, including urgent blasts from the President, information on imminent threats and Amber Alerts about missing children, will supercede all other phone traffic so they won't be stalled or delayed."
[Emphasis added.]

The first five Presidential Emergency Text Messages.  The nation's top cell phone carriers (Verizon and AT&T) are already signed on for the system, but users can opt out of receiving the local alerts and Amber alerts.  However, no one will be able to opt out of the Presidential Alerts, which as a result will eventually become compulsory for all cell phone users nationwide.
[Emphasis in original.]

Added 12/24/2013:
Now Hear This: Big Brother Wants to Talk to You. Right Now!.  It's not like we don't hear from our president often enough.  But Uncle Sam — having failed to devise its own system that could put the president's words out to all citizens within minutes — is reaching out to the private sector for help.  His goal?  So the "President of the United States can alert and warn the American people under all conditions."  How quickly?  Within 10 minutes, and preferably within five.

Don't mention the war:  The 1955 BBC plan for surviving nuclear armageddon.  In the event of all-out nuclear war, the BBC was to distract the nation by broadcasting a mix of music and light entertainment shows, secret papers released by the Home Office reveal.  Hundreds of security-vetted BBC staff and a select band of unnamed radio artistes were to be clandestinely dispatched to transmission sites across the country at the first signs of international tension.

The Doomsday Public Service Announcement:  One day, as the legend/rumor goes, [President Eisenhower] asked/ordered [Arthur] Godfrey to tape what can only be described as the ultimate PSA.  In the message, Godfrey supposedly announces that the country is under atomic attack, that all measures are being taken to defend the population and, most importantly, we WILL survive.  [People are still looking for the film, but it's apparently well hidden, if it exists at all.]

NORAD 'Cold War Room' Put on Ice.  Dr. Strangelove would have a heart attack.  America's vaunted underground war room deep inside this granite mountain is being retired.  Not only that, but Russian military men have been inside the place.

WGU-20:  WGU-20 was originally designed to be part of the Decision Information Distribution System (DIDS) that would be used to alert the public of an enemy attack (along the same lines as the then-current Emergency Broadcast System).  As originally envisioned, many home devices, including radios, TV and even smoke detectors, would have inexpensive longwave receivers built into them ensuring the that attack message would get out.  The DIDS system was never implemented and the job of attack warning in the US remained with the EBS (now the Emergency Alert System).

The Editor says...
If another situation as tense as the Cuban Missile Crisis ever develops, practically everybody who cares will be watching TV.  The chances of an attack coming as a complete surprise are practically nil.

We're All Soldiers of Fortune Now.  Survival kits and disaster preparedness used to be something out of the mainstream.  After a brief (and heavily-mocked) period of fallout-shelter construction in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the notion of private disaster preparedness retreated from the mainstream.  Survival kits and equipment were available, but mostly through military surplus stores and other specialty sources.  But now that seems to have changed.

More about the history of Conelrad:  [Scroll down]  If an air raid was believed to be imminent, air raid sirens would have sounded the alarm and all broadcasters in the area would shut down their AM broadcast transmitters and selected stations would retune to either 640 kc or 1240 kc and return to the air.  The public would turn on their radio and retune to either CONELRAD frequency to receive instructions.  This wasn't an emergency alarm system, as the public would have already been alerted by the sound of air raid sirens, but it would advise the public of what to do about the impending danger.  The concept behind CONELRAD was to deny enemy bombers any ability to use radio broadcast signals to navigate to their targets by means of radio direction finders which had been used successfully in World War II at Pearl Harbor.

The Editor says...
Note that if Conelrad had been activated, most AM radio stations would sign off immediately, and one station in each region would go to 640 or 1240 kilocycles.  If I'm not mistaken, the relatively few FM and TV stations would have had to go off the air and stay off for the duration of the emergency.  I've heard old-timers say that the early Conelrad tests required the primary stations to shift to 640 or 1240 kc, and it wasn't easy to get a transmitter re-tuned to 640 kc.

Another page with tons of information about Conelrad, EBS and EAS can be found here.

April 1961 Conelrad Card:  An authentic "Report of Weekly Test of Conelrad Teletype Alerting System", FCC Form 6A, from April, 1961.  This card was to be filled out and mailed when a broadcast station received a test via their news teletype service.

Listen to this 60-second Conelrad PSA, introduced by Dennis James.

If you're looking for general US Broadcast History, check out this page.

If you're studying broadcast history in Dallas, check out this page.

Other technical issues like Closed Captioning, HDTV and the V-Chip, are discussed on this page.

Duck and Cover with Bert the Turtle.  Educational film produced in 1950, during the first big Civil Defense push of the Cold War.

The CONELRAD plan for Hawaii, June 7, 1956.

Added 7/4/2008:
The Civil Defense Museum is an excellent source of information about Civil Defense shelters, survival rations and sirens, especially in the Dallas area.



Section 2½:  The first national EAS test, November 9, 2011.

Items published before the test:

November 9th's USA Nationwide Communication Blackout.  In its wisdom, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a Public Notice on June 9, 2011 that its first ever nationwide diagnostic test of the Emergency Alert System (EAS) would occur on November 9.  Reasons sketched out by FCC for the Nov. 9 test date include not wanting to test in the traditional hurricane season and to complete the task before severe winter storm set in.  The 2 p.m. test time will minimize disruption during rush hours while ensuring the test occurs during working hours.

Final Implementation Phase of Obama Formal Dictatorship has Begun.  [Scroll down]  Now, in a secondary move to seize all power in the country for himself and his syndicate, Obama has decided that he will confiscate ALL television and Radio broadcasts for a supposed "test" of the EAS (Emergency Alert System).  Communication for both US television and Radio will be cut off on 9 November 2011 for at least 3-4 minutes.  This is both unprecedented in our history and constitutes the final phase of Obama's testing of his ability to seize communications in the USA at will.

Did You Know Feds Will Temporarily Cut Off All TV and Radio Broadcasts on Nov. 9?  If you have ever wondered about the government's ability to control the civilian airwaves, you will have your answer on November 9th.  On that day, federal authorities are going to shut off all television and radio communications simultaneously at 2:00PM EST to complete the first ever test of the national Emergency Alert System (EAS).  This isn't a wild conspiracy theory.  The upcoming test is posted on the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau website.

First-ever national test of emergency alert system set for Nov. 9.  Next week, at 2 p.m. ET on Nov. 9, every American radio and TV provider will participate in the first-ever simultaneous nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System.  The three-minute alert — the traditional beeps and tones — will run on all channels.

FEMA urges Americans not to worry as national alert system is tested.  Wednesday's test will look and sound very similar to the local tests of the Emergency Alert System that occur frequently; the public will hear a message indicating that 'This is a test' on broadcast radio and television stations, cable television, satellite radio and television services and wireline video service providers.  The disruption will occur across all states and the territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa.

FCC Releases Handbook for Nationwide EAS Test.  The FCC has released its EAS Handbook*, specially directed to the Nationwide EAS Alert that will occur on November 9.

First nationwide EAS test to be conducted today.  Initially, the test was to last three minutes, but officials reduced that timeframe to 30 seconds Nov. 4.  "After a careful review of the technical elements of the test, FEMA and the FCC have concluded that a thirty-second test will allow the agencies to effectively assess the reliability and effectiveness of the EAS as a way to alert the public of national emergencies with limited disruption to the public," said a statement from FCC officials.


Items published after the test:

Emergency Alert System Fails.  Americans have become accustomed to their government spending staggering amounts of money on [stuff] that doesn't work, so today's Emergency Alert System test was pretty much par for the course.  Compared to "green energy" programs, it was a smashing success, unless you happen to live in sparsely populated areas like Chattanooga or New York City.  Just keep your ears peeled in the future, as you will probably hear either a warning tone and important instructions, or a Lady Gaga song, within ten minutes or so of a major national catastrophe.

Glitches Reported During FEMA's First-Ever National Emergency Alert System Test.  The 30-second test of the emergency alert system was scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. Eastern Time, but it appears there were problems with the audio message.

Poor Grades for Emergency Alert Test.  The test was supposed to run 30 seconds.  WJLA-TV in Washington was stuck on a test graphic for four full minutes.  WMAL-FM in Washington was stuck in silence for nearly two minutes before the test finally ran, and when it did, listeners heard double or triple audio.  One of ABC's radio affiliates, WAPI in Birmingham, Ala., tweeted this:  "Did not air on any station in our cluster, or any TV station in the market.  Callers with DirecTV report seeing Lady Gaga."

So what happens in a REAL emergency? First test of national alert system flops.  It is a relic from the Cold War, designed to get information from the White House to the people, should the worst happen.  And there was something distinctly 20th century about the first test of the national alert system — immediately derided as 'a flop'.

Added 7/21/2014:
New alert system gives president special code for emergency messages.  The national Emergency Alert System broadcasts television alert messages to warn people about immediate dangers.  The system is often used at the local level to warn people about weather conditions such as tornadoes or flash floods.  The system is not capable of reaching the entire country all at once should the president need to warn the public of something like a terrorist attack or an act of war against the country.  Instead, to reach the entire country, each local jurisdiction would have to broadcast the same message — a tedious process that could leave room for gaps if one station misses the broadcast.

The Editor says...
This is a complete waste of money, at best, and at worst it is an opportunity for the President to overtake all broadcast stations on a whim.  In the event of a national emergency, all network-affiliated television stations will talk about nothing else, as was demonstrated on 9/11/2001.  (Independent stations could go on showing re-runs of "I Love Lucy," and not without a number of oblivious viewers.)

New emergency alert system will give Obama the power to flip a switch and address the entire nation at once.  The Emergency Alert System, the latest version of a program first established in 1951, blasts out emergency messages in the event of local weather emergencies, but can also be used to warn Americans about terror attacks and major natural disasters.  Every broadcaster in the country is required to participate in the EAS.  Messages travel along a closed, private network, piggybacking from station to station.  It can take up to 10 minutes for every radio, TV, cable and satellite provider to blare its alert.




Section Three:  More about the EBS system

I found some additional material in my garage with which I can elaborate on the EBS system.  All this was found in the trash at a local television station several years ago, in the form of a three-ring binder containing the Detailed Operational Plan for the Emergency Broadcast System.  (It is safe to assume that the new copy of the Operational Plan is tucked away in someone's office.  It's supposed to be.)  Some of the old material was pretty ominous.  The FCC was preparing broadcast stations for all-out atomic warfare in which millions of people might have been killed and the telephone system would be used only for high-priority messages.

Here is some of what's in the three-ring binder:

Office of Civil Defense "Statement of Requirements for the Broadcast Services".
Dated February 23, 1967.  Five pages.  [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

Standard operating procedureStandard operating procedure and use of the authenticator word list.

Note:  Click on any of these documents to see them full size.
(That should be obvious.)


The Yellow CardThe Yellow Card.  (1275 k-bytes)  This is a description of an actual emergency notification, as opposed to a routine weekly test, which might have come across the AP or UPI teletype wire.  It describes two possible alert messages, with or without an attack warning.  The alert message would tell you to grab the Red Card or the White Card and follow those directions.

The Red CardThe Red Card, front.  This is the big one, an attack warning.  (1389 k-bytes)

The Red CardThe Red Card, back.  Additional standby script with an actual attack warning.  (1430 k-bytes)

Standby Script #2Standby Script #2, front.  More text for the very nervous chain-smoking announcer to read aloud while waiting for official word from Washington.  (1018 k-bytes)

(Added 12/15/2011 at the suggestion of John Meshelany Jr.)


Standby Script #2Standby Script #2, back.  (1180 k-bytes)

Red Card for non-NDEA stations, frontRed Card for non-NDEA stations, front.  (902 k-bytes)

(Added 12/15/2011)


Red Card for non-NDEA stations, backRed Card for non-NDEA stations, back.  (1060 k-bytes)

This is the script that non-participating stations would broadcast immediately before signing off, leaving the listeners to hunt for another station (on 640 or 1240 kHz).

NDEA authorizationNDEA authorization.  (671 k-bytes)

This is what a National Defense Emergency Authorization looks like.  It is essentially a license to keep broadcasting during a national emergency.  It's unlikely that FCC inspectors would have come around to ask to see it, but it had to be kept on hand.

(Added 12/15/2011)


The White CardThe White Card, front.  (173 k-bytes)  This is the standby script without an attack warning.

The White CardThe White Card, back.  (112 k-bytes)  More of the standby script.  "Please be calm! ... Please do not use your telephone!"  How many people in today's society would actually stay off the phone if they heard this on the radio?  Every 14-year-old girl in town would be on her cell phone in five seconds, if such an announcement were made today.

Perhaps that is why Area Code 710 has been reserved for the United States Government, although no lines - other than the single telephone number 710-627-4387 ("NCS-GETS") - had actually been connected on this code as of 2004*  and even that number requires a special access code to use.*  GETS stands for the Government Emergency Telecommunications Service, which is described in some detail in various places around the internet:
[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7]


The Blue CardThe Blue Card.  (1663 k-bytes)  This card gives the details of the weekly teletype tests.  However, hardly anyone ever actually read this card.  If you went to work in a radio or TV station back in those days, with no experience at all, the old timers would make sure that you knew about the EBS system, and about the importance of these tests.

The ten-bell teletype signal was designed to attract attention in a busy newsroom where people ordinarily ignored the noise of the teletype.  Even so, some stations had alarms that were triggered by ten quick bells on the teletype machine.  (There was also a five-bell alarm used for tornado warnings.)

The Green CardThe Green Card, front.  (1736 k-bytes)  This card gives the details of the random closed-circuit tests.  I have seen only one of these tests.

The Green CardThe Green Card, back.  (1736 k-bytes)  More details of the random closed-circuit tests, which were introduced in 1967.

FCC Rules Title 47, Part 73, Subpart G:  Emergency Action Notification System and the Emergency Broadcast System.  Taken from the Federal Register, April 14, 1972, these are the complete FCC Rules effective on that date, and pertaining to EBS, including all the standby scripts, and the scripts to be followed in the event that a station had to go off the air during a national emergency condition, as well as the details of the old attention signal, closed circuit teletype system tests, and the use of EBS during day-to-day emergencies like tornados.  The rules also describe the four methods which could be used to activate the Emergency Broadcast System, any one of which would be sufficient to initiate EBS operation.

Some of this material may be of interest only to historians, but it answers a lot of questions.  For example, you may wonder why, when an EBS test was run on the radio, the announcer always said, "The broadcasters of your area, in voluntary cooperation with the FCC and other authorities, have developed this system…," since participation in the Emergency Broadcast System was no more voluntary than station identification.  The answer lies in these FCC rules.  The rules contain the script for weekly EBS tests.  Whether a station was cooperating voluntarily or not, that's what had to be said in an EBS test announcement.

Complete FCC Rules on EBS Complete FCC Rules on EBS Complete FCC Rules on EBS Complete FCC Rules on EBS Complete FCC Rules on EBS

Complete FCC Rules on EBS Complete FCC Rules on EBS Complete FCC Rules on EBS Complete FCC Rules on EBS Complete FCC Rules on EBS

Included in the FCC rules are the detailed specifications of the old attention signal.  In the step-by-step recipe for the old attention signal, the last two steps usually occurred simultaneously, so the transmitter had to go from zero output power to maximum output power (with a fully modulated tone) instantly.  At the station I worked for in 1972 and 1973, EBS tests had to be run at reduced power because the old transmitter (vintage 1955) could not send the attention signal at full power without shutting down completely.

Below is a memo about the precedence system for the use of telephone and telegraph facilities during a national emergency.  This is a synopsis of a seven-page memo which goes into greater detail but says roughly the same thing.  The longer memo goes into greater detail about the "procedures to insure that communications vital to the national interest will be afforded priority handling in all situations ranging from normal peacetime conditions to various stages of crisis, including all-out nuclear attack."  Such an event was not entirely unlikely back then.

Precedence system 1 Precedence system 2

Also for broadcast historians, President Nixon's Executive Order 11490:  "Assigning Emergency Preparedness Functions to Federal Departments and Agencies."  Essentially a things-to-do list for FEMA (or the equivalent agency) in the aftermath of an attack on this country.

Executive Order 11490 page 1 Executive Order 11490 page 2 Executive Order 11490 page 3

The two page document below is dated May 2, 1968.  It is a memo on an FCC letterhead from Defense Commissiner Lee Loevinger, about the FBI and the Universal Emergency Telephone Service Number (9-1-1) including a lengthy quote from J. Edgar Hoover.  Mr. Hoover didn't want people sending information to the FBI by way of 9-1-1 operators.  This was decades before 9-1-1 was in use nationwide.  I had never heard of 9-1-1 until the mid-1970's, and the 9-1-1 system in Dallas wasn't in place before 1982, as far as I can remember, but the history of 9-1-1 is another subject altogether.

(If you really want to get sidetracked, read 100 Ways to Mis-Dial 911.)

Mr. Loevinger was appointed to be a Commissioner at the FCC in 1963 by President Kennedy to complete the term of well-known FCC Commissioner Newton Minow.

Loevinger memo page 1 Loevinger memo page 2

Update:
This article about Sending Photos to 911 Operators in New York City includes a statement that the 9-1-1 system has been in operation since 1968.

If you're on a slow dial-up internet connection, let me apologize for loading up this page with additional graphics, but here they are anyway:

FCC Public NoticeFirst, here is an FCC Public Notice, dated July 5, 1967:  "FCC Approves First Revision of the EBS Plan."

That was followed a few weeks later by this memo, dated August 1, 1967, from the Office of Civil Defense to all broadcast stations, introducing the revised and updated National Basic EBS Plan as approved by the FCC.  This copy of the memo has been scribbled upon, in an effort to make corrections; however, I recognize the handwriting, and the gentleman who made the notes is an outstanding broadcast engineer who must have known what he was doing when he made these notations.

Updated EBS Plan page 1 Updated EBS Plan page 2 Updated EBS Plan page 3 Updated EBS Plan page 4 Updated EBS Plan page 5

Updated EBS Plan page 6 Updated EBS Plan page 7 Updated EBS Plan page 8 Updated EBS Plan page 9 Updated EBS Plan page 10

Updated EBS Plan page 11 Updated EBS Plan page 12 Updated EBS Plan page 13 Updated EBS Plan page 14



 New!   Section Four:  Additional documents added April 21, 2007.

Notes on Authenticator Word Lists Notes on Authenticator Word Lists
Annex V -- Notes on Authenticator Word Lists,
revised 12/23/1970.

Large version:  Page 1   Page 2



Annex V Green Card -- Random Closed Circuit Tests, First and Second Methods.  These two pages are apparently the same as the Green Card (front and back) shown above.  If you would like to have a closer look, check out the larger version:  FrontBack.


EBS Programming and Operating Instructions EBS Programming and Operating Instructions EBS Programming and Operating Instructions
Annex VI -- EBS Programming and Operating Instructions.  Includes the script for the two-minute warning before a Presidential address.

Large version:
Page 1  Page 2  Page 3

Criteria for NDEA Eligibility
Annex VII -- Criteria for NDEA Eligibility.

Large version:
Annex VII

Washington DC Network Origination Diagram
Attachment A -- Washington DC Network Origination Diagram.  Shows how ABC, CBS, NBC, Mutual Radio and the White House Communications Agency were interconnected, on a good day.

Large version:
Attachment A

First Alternate Network Network Origination
Attachment B -- First Alternate Network Network Origination.  This is "Plan B" -- the interconnections of the radio networks and the White House, apparently through a control point at an undisclosed location -- possibly in the basement of the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.  (Just a wild guess.)

Large version:
Attachment B

Texas Emergency Broadcast System Base Plan, November 2, 1964.
Texas EBS Base Plan Texas EBS Base Plan Texas EBS Base Plan Texas EBS Base Plan

Large version:  Page 1  Page 2  Page 3  Page 4

Detailed Texas EBS Operational Plan
Updated 5/15/2007:
Another page from the Detailed Texas EBS Operational Plan, specifically the Dallas Operational Area, from September 15, 1972.  What's especially interesting about this page is the old callsigns of some of the Dallas radio and TV stations.  For example, the station that is now known as "My 27", KDFI-TV, was apparently licensed in 1972 as KLIF-TV.



Section Five:  The Two-Tone Attention Signal

The memo below shows that the development of the two-tone attention signal goes back to 1963.  Its format was apparently finalized in early 1969, and of course it is still in use today (even if only as a sound effect -- see below).  The two-tone attention signal is a mix of 853 Hz and 960 Hz, plus or minus 0.5 Hz For comparison, the buttons on the third and fourth rows of a Touch-Tone keypad generate 852 and 941 Hz, respectively.*

Two-tone development memo 1 Two-tone development memo 2

FCC announces the two-tone attention signalThis is the FCC memo announcing the two-tone attention signal.  FCC Public Notice, October 19, 1967, "New Emergency Public Alerting System to be Tested."

Public Cautioned by FCCFCC Public Notice, October 19, 1967, "Public Cautioned on the Purchase of Emergency Broadcast Receivers."  It seems that someone was marketing EBS receivers that would respond to interruptions in the RF carrier, and the FCC wanted everybody to know they were working on a new two-tone attention signal which was "not subject to … false activation."

  Updated 3/15/2006:
Old Conelrad monitorI have found an interesting advertisement in the back of an old issue of QST.  Apparently even ham radio operators were required to be sure the Conelrad system wasn't activated while they were on the air.  Since it would be rather challenging to carry on a conversation in Morse Code while Wolfman Jack was blaring out of another radio on the desk, various companies began marketing these handy receivers that were evidently triggered by the carrier interruptions in the old attention signal.  These are the receivers mentioned in the FCC Notice discussed in the paragraph immediately above.

Kids these days won't know what "Kit, with printed circuit" means.  Kit means they sent you a pile of parts and you had to put it together, piece by piece.  Printed circuit refers to the traces on the circuit board, not the schematic diagram.  Not many years earlier, devices like this were put together with components soldered onto the terminals of the tube sockets, and a few solder terminal strips in between, with lots of connecting wire and "spaghetti" insulation all around.

Updated 10/19/2006
These are two relevant patents:
Patent #4103235 -- "Two-tone attention signal broadcasting system"
Patent #4392248 -- "Attention signal receiver for emergency broadcast systems"

Two tone signal patentOne aspect of the former patent is quite interesting:  The patent was issued to an apartment dweller in Nebraska, about seven years after the two-tone format was finalized.

Updated 6/5/2009:
Just recently I received an email from the "apartment dweller in Nebraska," Patrick Bryant.  Back when he was awarded the aforementioned patent, he was a broadcast engineer.  Today he is a licensed pilot, CISSP, GMDSS Operator/Maintainer, and amateur radio operator N8QH — a man with lots of feathers in his cap.

Note...  The two-tone signal is now just a sound effect.
FCC Rules §11.12:  Effective January 1, 1998, the two-tone Attention Signal decoder will no longer be required and the two-tone Attention Signal will be used to provide an audio alert.



The following item is a single page from a book called, "In Time of Emergency - a citizen's handbook on nuclear attack and natural disasters."  (Office of Civil Defense publication H-14.)

What to do if there is a nuclear flash
What to do if there is a nuclear flash
.  Not exactly "duck and cover", but along the same lines.  (575 k-bytes)

EBS Public Service Announcements This is a cover letter from the Department of the Army to all radio and television program directors introducing a series of Public Service Announcements about the "new and improved" Emergency Broadcast System.

This cover letter was accompanied by the following six pages:

Scripts for 60-second PSA's:

Sixty second PSA script Sixty second PSA script Sixty second PSA script

Scripts for 20-seconds PSA's:

Twenty second PSA script Twenty second PSA script Twenty second PSA script



In addition to monitoring the AP wire, radio (and TV) stations monitor other radio stations to this day, listening for EAS messages.  Under the new system, each station typically monitors an AM station, an FM station, and the nearest National Weather Service VHF station.  The operator on duty has to make a note in the transmitter log when an EAS test is received.  The same was true 35 years ago under the old system.

Unlike the old EBS system, the new EAS has weekly tests and monthly tests.  Sometimes on consecutive days – or perhaps even on the same day!  It seems like a waste of time and effort when that happens, but the two types of tests have slightly different purposes.

Back in the 1960's, FM stations were scarce, except in major markets, so the success of EBS depended on regional and clear-channel AM stations.  Minor stations in isolated small towns would monitor big-city AM stations.  To get enough of a signal to do this reliably, it was sometimes necessary to construct an antenna, pointed in the direction of the station to be monitored.  One antenna ideal for this application is the Beverage antenna.



Section Six:  One more personal anecdote.
Added June 25, 2005.

In 1971 I had a First Class FCC license but very little work experience, so I was perfect for the job of sign-on meter reader at KRGV, 1290 on your AM dial, (now KRGE) in Weslaco, Texas.  Actually I was hired as a part-time announcer, and more hours were added to my schedule when the boss gave me the pre-sign-on transmitter shift that nobody else wanted.  The AM station had a three-tower directional antenna, which meant that somebody with a First Class license had to make a series of meter readings before sunrise, while the station was still in the directional mode.  Having someone at the transmitter to turn it on in the morning was an advantage to everyone, because transmitters like to warm up and wake up gently, especially on cold mornings, and in the event of an overload, an engineer would be standing there to fix problems or put out the fire.  An old man would have found this to be a chore.  I was only 17 and was having fun!

There is a picture of an identical transmitter here.

While working as a radio announcer at KRGV, I was surprised to see that the announcer on duty had no control of the transmitter.  Most radio stations back then had transmitter controls and telemetry — or the transmitter itself — right next to the announcer.  This station was an AM-TV combination, and all the meter reading was done by the engineers at the TV transmitter, in their spare time.  If they remembered.  Usually the engineers at the TV transmitter just ignored to AM transmitter altogether.  As a result of this arrangement, the KRGV-AM transmitter never went off the air during the "attention signal" in EBS tests, as required by the FCC rules.

Ahhh... but the transmitter had interlocked cabinets, of course, which meant that it would go off the air instantly if certain doors were opened.  The station's chief engineer was fully aware of the EBS situation, and he knew that the TV transmitter guys ignored the AM transmitter.  And so, with his permission, I dropped by the transmitter and cut the carrier myself during the next EBS test, using the interlocks to interrupt the carrier for five seconds at a time.  Then I made an entry on the maintenance log, locked the door, and left.  That night, when the post-sunset meter reader found the entry on the maintenance log, he called to find out what I thought I was doing, who did I think I was, etc.  It was a lively conversation.  But the boss loved it, since it showed that somebody took an interest in running an EBS test the right way.

This goes to show that the old EBS system, and in particular the old attention signal, were ineffective and unreliable in some parts of the country.  In the case of KRGV, even the people who were supposed to have been monitoring the transmitter never noticed that it was off the air twice for five seconds at a time.  Back in those days, just going off the air wasn't much of an attention grabber.  Nearly every station signed off every night.  (It seems hard to imagine, but really, you could tune around the AM band at 2:30 a.m. and find several frequencies with no signals at all.  Or maybe that was just on my radio.)  These days, transmitters are more reliable and many stations are on the air continuously for months at a time, so it would be hard to overlook a five-second interruption.

Even with its flaws, the new EAS system is a great improvement over the old Emergency Broadcast System.



"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

— Thomas Jefferson *     
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Updated July 21, 2014.

©2014 by Andrew K. Dart