December 13th, 2011
Scared citizens flood 911 boards with anxious calls
(PaulWatson) – An unannounced test of a soon to be mandatory emergency alert system caused panic in New Jersey today after Verizon customers received text messages warning them that a “civil emergency” was in progress and to “take shelter,” prompting alarmed citizens to flood 911 lines with anxious calls.
However, media reports concerning the alarm completely ignore the fact that Verizon was almost certainly running a test for the federal government’s soon to be mandatory PLAN alert program, which the company has signed up for.
“A mass text message warning New Jersey cell phone users of a “civil emergency” was sent out by Verizon Wireless earlier today,” reports the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Verizon Wireless later apologized to its customers for causing alarm.
The alert message included the text “U.S. Govern,” suggesting to customers the text had come from the federal government itself, which undoubtedly fueled the panic.
Residents in three different counties received the message, titled “Emergency alert seek shelter by 1:24 p.m,” which was not labeled as a test. Police departments and country authorities fielded four times the usual number of calls, many of them from distressed citizens who wanted to know whether a real emergency was in progress. “There is no reason to panic here,” said Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden. “It is a false text done maliciously today at 12:27 p.m.”
The Department of Homeland Security was also forced to put out a tweet confirming that there was no emergency after concerned citizens also turned to Twitter for advice, saying they were, “scared and didn’t know how to react.”
Verizon company spokesman David Samberg told the Star-Ledger that the message was part of a “test emergency notification,” apologizing “for any inconvenience or concern this message may have caused.” The messages were received by Verizon customers with, “Droid-operated phones in Monmouth and Ocean counties and other parts of central New Jersey.”
Though completely absent from reports concerning the scare, the unannounced test was almost certainly conducted in preparation for FEMA’s PLAN program (Personal Localized Alerting Network), which will broadcast emergency alert messages directly to Americans’ cell phones using a new chip embedded in the receiver. The system is scheduled to be operational across the country by the end of next year.
Verizon are one of the ‘big four’ wireless carriers that have agreed to sign up for the program, which will use a “special chip” embedded in all newly produced cellphones to send emergency alerts directly from the federal government. Customers will not be able to opt out of messages labeled ‘presidential alerts’, meaning they will be forced to read what some construe as government propaganda.
As we have documented, the PLAN program is part of the wider move on behalf of Homeland Security to create a public environment dominated by a pervasive sense of fear and paranoia, a context in which the safe exercise of constitutional freedoms doesn’t normally thrive.
For the first time ever the feds will have a direct line to the millions of Americans who use cell phones and be able to use the messages to transmit whatever they like, whether that be genuine safety information, fearmongering about spurious terror alerts, or political propaganda.
Judging by today’s response, the overwhelming majority of Americans will simply react by panicking, which in a real emergency situation could only make the crisis worse.