One classroom’s experience during presidential alert system

By Julia Harrold

Julia Harrold
The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent the first “Presidential Alert” Oct. 3.

The buzzing and beeping of cell phones rang throughout the otherwise silent “Introduction to Journalism” classroom Oct. 3. It was a historic disruption for adjunct professor Peter VonBuol and his students.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent the very first “Presidential Alert” at 1:18 p.m. CST to approximately 225 million mobile devices nationwide.

“Presidential Alert,” the notification read, “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

The alert system, similar to those already used on public broadcast systems, is designed to warn the public about national emergencies through their mobile phones, such as an invasion or terrorist attack.

The alert was only a test, but it created a lot of social media buzz on its first day, trending on Twitter with the hashtag #presidentialalert. In VonBuol’s classroom, students discussed the significance of Americans receiving an alert from the White House on their mobile phones.

“In a general sense it’s good to make sure that the system’s working and that we can reach people in case there is a legitimate emergency,” said freshman journalism major Amber Thomas.

Students talked about whether the alert was a violation of privacy.

“A lot of people now are nervous and paranoid about privacy and I don’t think this helps,” said junior photojournalism major Hannah Davis.

Davis said the only time the system should be used is if there is an actual national emergency. “Otherwise I don’t think there’s any reason why he needs to personally be able to contact every citizen,” she said, referring to President Donald Trump.

If the system were used incorrectly it would cause panic and economic damage, VonBuol told his students. “I don’t think it makes a difference whether its President Obama or President Bush or President Trump,” he said. “It is a very serious thing.”

“I don’t think it’s going to go away,” Thomas said. “We just have to roll with it, whether it’s here, whether it’s not.”

Unlike emergency and amber alerts, these notifications cannot be turned off, according to FEMA.

President Trump “is using it right now, even though we don’t absolutely need it,” Davis said “I think in the future, depending on who we have as a president, will use it for actual emergencies.”