Have you ever been watching a movie late at night on cable and you suddenly received a test for the Emergency Alert System? Almost every cable system in America has the EAS alerts that more or less override your cable signal just to give you a notice that there isn’t a real emergency. As EAS alerts have always been, they can also scare you in their presentation, especially when your entire cable system is interrupted with an ominous screen. Then there’s the rare times when that EAS alerts locks up and doesn’t go off your screen.
I’ve had this happen on my own cable system (Comcast) more than once. And it’s interrupted more than a few movies when you realize the EAS alert isn’t going to go off after a few minutes like it’s supposed to. Recently, an EAS alert stayed on my cable system screen for over an hour and a half until someone realized something was amiss.
Is this going to become a regular problem for cable system users as EAS systems continue to use this practice? All you have to do is take a look at Comcast’s discussion forum from earlier this year and all the angry customers who experienced the same thing I did. In almost every comment, there was a realization that there isn’t much you can do, even if you call the cable company to let them know. When they know there’s a problem, they usually put up a recording so customer service reps aren’t overwhelmed with calls.
So is there a solution to alerting us to emergencies without necessarily having to interrupt cable broadcasts? Perhaps the TV alert should be done away with in favor of wireless alerts.
The Ineffectiveness of EAS Alerts on Cable
Those who are lucky enough to have seen the evolution of TV within the last 50 years will be familiar with the evolution of the EAS system. In the earlier days, local stations would put a test pattern up or other card with an announcement that you were watching a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. EBS tests always resulted in a high-pitched beep that would extend for about a minute followed by the announcer giving the classic “If this had been an actual emergency…” line.
In more recent years, this has gone away in favor of a more crude system that interrupts cable broadcasts at random times for tests. The announcing can also be fairly amateurish since it comes from local emergency centers in your town or city. Images are usually non-existent as well with usually a dark screen and text appearing to come from a 1980s-era computer.
While these tests usually happen in the late-night hours, it isn’t always that way. They can also happen in the primetime hours, hence sometimes getting stuck and interrupting a cable movie or show. The saddest part is that EAS alerts show up on DVR recordings if you’re not even home.
It’s possible EAS alerts on TV are just becoming too much of a burden now. They still scare people when they come on (as they have for decades), despite being useful when storms pass through. Regardless, with so many people signed up to receive the same alerts on their wireless devices, should they be relegated to there?
Cable Needs to be Interruption Free
By angering too many people interrupting their TV broadcasts, EAS alerts may become something despised in time rather than something helpful. Due to far too many glitches in the last few years, receiving an alert about an approaching storm, amber alert, or other imminent threat might be better on our smartphones. Even if they scare us when they also pop up there, they won’t be interrupting America’s hunger for relying on our TV’s to be accessible at all times.
Plus, with more people starting to watch Netflix than they are a real TV, wireless EAS alerts may be the only necessary way to reach people when their life (or someone else’s) is in imminent danger.