Since the Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS) began its rolling deployment on April 7th, no one has heard much from it. That changed last week, when handsets from Washington, DC to Portland, OR received CMAS messages on their phones around 3:00 PM EDT Wednesday (April 18) afternoon.
There has been talk of CMAS testing, and possibly the beginning of Required Monthly Tests (RMT), ever since the system’s first end-to-end test in New York Cityback in December. The messages received by many across the country this week may be the beginnings of this test. We at AWARE caught a glimpse of the message first-hand: one of our colleagues received this test message on his Android device.
The message header is “RMT alert,” followed by an explanation that this is a CMAS test, and ending with the Common Alert Protocol (CAP) fields that will be populated in most CMAS messages. These tests are mandatory for carriers participating in CMAS, and are initiated by FEMA, who owns and operates CMAS. Details are listed out in the Code of Federal Regulations.
CMAS Testing Requirements
(a) Required monthly tests. Testing of the CMAS from the Federal Alert Gateway to each Participating [Commercial Mobile Service] CMS Provider’s infrastructure shall be conducted monthly.
(1) A Participating CMS [Commercial Mobile Service] Provider’s Gateway shall support the ability to receive a required monthly test (RMT) message initiated by the Federal Alert Gateway Administrator.
(2) Participating CMS Providers shall schedule the distribution of the RMT to their CMAS coverage area over a 24 hour period commencing upon receipt of the RMT at the CMS Provider Gateway. Participating CMS Providers shall determine the method to distribute the RMTs, and may schedule over the 24 hour period the delivery of RMTs over geographic subsets of their coverage area to manage traffic loads and to accommodate maintenance windows.
(3) A Participating CMS Provider may forego an RMT if the RMT is pre-empted by actual alert traffic or if an unforeseen condition in the CMS Provider infrastructure precludes distribution of the RMT. A Participating CMS Provider Gateway shall indicate such an unforeseen condition by a response code to the Federal Alert Gateway.
(4) The RMT shall be initiated only by the Federal Alert Gateway Administrator using a defined test message. Real event codes or alert messages shall not be used for the CMAS RMT message.
(5) A Participating CMS Provider shall distribute an RMT within its CMAS coverage area within 24 hours of receipt by the CMS Provider Gateway unless pre-empted by actual alert traffic or unable due to an unforeseen condition.
(6) A Participating CMS Provider may provide mobile devices with the capability of receiving RMT messages.
It appears that in this instance the RMT went not only to test handsets, but to phones owned by members of the public. Activity on Twitter, Facebook and online tech forums suggests that people all over the country received these messages. Judging from the reactions, it seems that most were confused by the message and few knew what CMAS was. Some highlights are below. (While there were some particularly colorful posts expressing confusion, we’ve decided to keep AWARE a family-friendly site and have refrained from reposting).
Is anyone else getting random blank #CMAS alerts on their Verizon #iPhone? I just got a second in the matter of a few months.
Does anyone here know when #CMAS is really going to roll out? Everything I’ve seen says 2012 but has no real date. #SMEM
Hi do you know if that cmas alert was just Verizon folks or across the board? in any case it was national
Portland Bureau of Emergency Management in Oregon received the #CMAS test on a cell phone at noon PST. #SMEM
Just passed a hundred state patrols then got a CMAS alert on my phone #coincidence?
Does anyone get CMAS alerts on their phone? what is that? #confused is the world ending?
What in the world is the “CMAs Alert”
The AWARE Forum has learned that these tests are scheduled for the 3rd Wednesday of each month at 1:00pm, ET. The RMT is designed to hit every capable phone in range of the test signal with a message. The message will only be received and displayed with a CMAS capable mobile device that is on a CMAS capable Mobile Network Operator. Whether or not the message is displayed will vary by handset and carrier.
Verizon’s CMAS (also known as Wireless Emergency Alerts/WEA) FAQ’s address this.
If you are receiving test alerts, we thank you for your patience. The manufacturer of your device will soon release a silent, over the air fix to prevent further receipt of test alerts.
We’re excited to see that the system is sending messages out across the country and expect that these tests will provide FEMA, the FCC, wireless carriers and other stakeholders with valuable information. What do you think? Did you receive a message ? If so, what kind of phone do you have and what carrier do you use?
Drew Smith works as an Associate Consultant at SRA International Strategy and Performance Group, where he concentrates on research and development efforts in emergency alerts and warnings. He is currently focused on public response to alerts and warnings on mobile devices, particularly societal responses across population groups and effective practices surrounding message delivery.