- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 1, 2009

Numerous failures have left the nation dependent on an “antiquated, unreliable, national alert system” intended to signal a terrorist attack or national disaster, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a report released Thursday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has made “limited progress” in creating a new system to replace the outdated Emergency Alert System (EAS), which uses a relay system of television and radio stations to broadcast emergency information or a message from the president.

“Specifically, a lack of training and national-level testing raises questions about whether the relay system would actually work during a national-level emergency,” the report said.

FEMA has conducted only one national test, in 2007, that was a response to a previous GAO audit, but three of the nation’s 35 primary television stations failed to receive and rebroadcast the message due to hardware and software issues.

“FEMA has not held another test since 2007,” the report said. “In addition, FEMA has no plans for testing the relay distribution system.”

“Consequently, there is no assurance the national-level relay would work should the president need to activate EAS to communicate with the American people.”

The report comes three years after an executive order by former President Bush calling for a sweeping technological overhaul of the country’s early alerts for natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

In February 2008, an investigation by The Washington Times found the new system called the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) had not been implemented as several federal agencies including FEMA continued to wrangle over technicalities.

“Little progress has been made in achieving the objectives of Executive Order 13407,” the GAO report said.

In response to the report, the Homeland Security Department which oversees FEMA said they generally concurred with the oversight agency’s findings, and pledged to conduct more testing, training and provide regular reports to congress.

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