Don't Panic! We're Just Going to Hit the Button for a Second

As if we’re not on edge enough — after two failed apocalyptic attempts and the final day of the Mayan calendar, Dec. 21, 2012, rapidly approaching (*gulp* third time’s the charm?) — the government is going to push the button for the emergency broadcast system...but just for a second.

Steven Puetzer | Getty Images

Actually, it's going to be about 30 seconds.

Everybody remain calm.

You’ve seen those famous bars and high-pitched beep of the Emergency Broadcast Systemon different channels from time to time but the government has decided for the first time in the history of EVER to shut down all TV and radio at the same time to test its new emergency alert system.

What’s worse, is that, unlike the other periodic tests, they are NOT PLANNING TO TELL YOU IT’S A TEST.

"The important thing to know about this test is that FEMA is using a code for an actual emergency so the text at the top of the television screen may indicate that an 'Emergency Action Notification has been issued,'" according to Phil Petree, President of "This notification is used to disseminate a REAL national alert and in this case, the test. Because this is an actual alert code, the background image that appears on video screens indicating 'This is a test' may not appear and when users flip channels and see or hear the alert on all channels."

Yeah, that can’t go wrong.

The reason why the neighborhood watch is getting involved is because there is a fear that the 9-1-1 system may be overwhelmed by panicked residents who have no idea this is just a test because they are NOT PLANNING TO TELL YOU IT’S A TEST.

Get out your red Sharpie and mark it in your calendar, the time to NOT PANIC is today at 2pm ET.

In a way, it’s good — like testing your fire extinguisher from time to time. You don’t want to find out mid-fire, while you're in your pajamas, that your extinguishment device has lost its ability to extinguish.

At the same time, the fact that they are NOT PLANNING TO TELL YOU IT’S A TEST makes it just a little too “War of the Worlds”for comfort.

For those of you just tuning in ... HOLY CRAP!


But wait! Don’t answer yet. You also get this panic-inducing fact: You know what today's date is right? It’s 11/9/11. That’s dyslexic — or European — 9/11. (Dyslexics see things backwards and, well, in Europe they do it backwards on purpose — but that's an entirely different post.)

The Emergency Broadcast System has actually never been used by the federal government for an actual emergency — not during the Soviet missile crisis, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy or even the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.

In a way that's slightly comforting — that we've never had to use it — and yet it makes you wonder: What the heck else is coming down the pike that could be worse than any of that, that prompted them to just want to check the system?

It’s like going on a first date and having the guy nervously say, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to kill you.”

Your heart races as you think, Dude, that thought never crossed my mind. But since you mentioned it, it’s all I can think about! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go to the ladies room. And by ladies room, I mean the window in the ladies room that I will be crawling out of in approximately 20 seconds.

FCC emergency alert system
FCC emergency alert system

And let’s just say the PR campaign to alert the public of the test does not in any way convey DON’T PANIC. The FCC's website has a glowing map of the US that looks like it’s being taken over by aliens — or Verizon — with a countdown clock : “2 Days Remaining” … “1 Day Remaining” in a font that you only see in movies when someone’s attempting to blow something up. You know the one — where Bruce Willis gets a hold of the device and in a heart-racing, sweat-dripping scene, he has to figure out which wire to pull (the red one or the blue one?) to save everyone.

And this creepy public service announcement featuring FCC Homeland Security guy James Barnett SERIOUSLY doesn’t help:

Look, if you don’t want me to panic you don’t bring in a guy who looks like an undertaker. Give me someone who looks like Bruce Willis. Everything's fine, Yippee-ki-yay.

OK. Let's all just try to remain calm.

And now, we go to the Dramatic Chipmunk for his perspective on today’s test:

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