During the Presidential Alert system test on October 3, 2018, the emergency monitoring industry saw an unprecedented influx of inbound signals from both security and PERS device users. The loud tone produced by devices that received the alert coincidentally matched the frequencies monitored by some security glass-break sensors, causing the sensors to trigger alarms that were reported to monitoring centers nationwide.
Justin Bailey, president of AvantGuard Monitoring, Ogden, Utah, said, “From our end, we quickly noticed that the sudden increase in signals correlated with the Presidential Alert that went out. From there, our operations team quickly investigated and diagnosed the issue.”
AvantGuard reported a sudden influx of signals as an unintended consequence of the alert system, which is designed to provide national alerts in the event of a terror attack or widespread disaster. The highly publicized test of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) functionality was intended to demonstrate the system’s ability to notify most wireless phone users and deliver a parallel message through broadcast radio and television.
The tones generated caused an unusually high number of PERS and mPERS subscribers to push their emergency buttons, according to AvantGuard. Many elderly people felt confused or worried about what the alarm meant, while others believed the tones were coming from their emergency devices and pushed their buttons to discover the cause of the unexpected tone.
The team members at AvantGuard worked quickly to filter through the sudden spike in signal traffic, which diluted the legitimate emergency signals entering the central station. Because of the quick action from the AvantGuard team, false alarms that would have been sent to hundreds of emergency dispatch centers were properly resolved.
The volume of alarm traffic received by monitoring centers was similar to that received when area-wide storms or natural disasters impact a region of the country, the monitoring company stated. Generally with storms, however, monitoring centers are able to prepare in advance to appropriately handle the influx of alarms. In this case, a similar influx of traffic from the test of the Wireless Emergency Alert system (WEA) was neither predicted nor expected.