People watching television or listening to the radio on Wednesday afternoon are going to hear and see something that has never happened before - the first nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System.
The 30-second test, scheduled for 1:00 p.m. local time, is the first time that every television and radio station in the nation will broadcast the same message. People will hear the standard "this is only a test" message, but a visual crawl on television will be unique, and the words "this is a test" may not appear on every television screen.
That has some emergency dispatchers worried that some people - not realizing it's only a system test - may panic and clog 9-1-1 phone lines.
"When this happens, people will be flipping through channels, and they'll see it on every channel, and this could cause some people to panic. The better we get the word out that this is only a test, the better we will be," said Kansas City Missouri 911 Center director Ernie Blair..
The system has been in place since the 1950's, but has never been tested on a nationwide-scale. Federal officials say that the test is simply to see if the system still works.