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Emergency Alert System test goes off with a hitch

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY)-- The first ever nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System went across the air with a major hitch Wednesday.

The Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission scheduled the test for 2 p.m. The nearly 30-second warning had an alert tone and a text scroll, but there was also supposed to be an audio message, but that didn't happen.

The Emergency Alert System is used locally for many tests and notifications, like an Amber Alert. This was the first nationwide test.

Officials say the system could be used to ensure that the President and other government officials can address the nation during significant emergencies.

New Hanover County Emergency Management Director Warren Lee says he was surprised that a portion of the system did not work and that a national alert was not explored sooner.

"Honestly, I'm surprised that we never have done a national test," Lee said. "You would think something like this, seems to us like it would be kind of simple. Why haven't we ever done it nationally? We can do it individually at each level of community, so why couldn't you do it as a whole nationwide test? I'm not sure why we never have done one before."

The New Hanover County 911 Center did not know what to expect in terms of the number of calls it might get when the alert happened. In the end, there was no spike in calls.

There was a scroll on the alert system so people watching television could at least read the warning, but for those listening to the radio it was dead air space with just an audible tone. Lee says it is a system that needs tweaking.

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