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Emergency Alert System test on TV riddled with glitches

When local TV outlets participated in the first national test of the Emergency Alert System, they knew there might be a few glitches.

But it seems few expected what happened to some customers of Bright House Networks who saw their cable tuners switch to C-SPAN2, display the 30-second emergency message, and stay on the channel after the test ended. Other customers' tuners switched back to original programming after the test, as planned.

There were other glitches: At Tampa NBC affiliate WFLA-Ch. 8, the message never aired. And DirecTV subscribers nationwide heard audio of Lady Gaga's single Paparazzi instead of the emergency message.

But the channel switch locally worried some broadcasters. "If there ever were a real emergency, our graphics would have been (superseded) by the cable company," said Rich Pegram, general manager of Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28.

Joe Durkin, a spokesman for Bright House, said every customer with an external cable TV tuner saw their channels change; he couldn't say how many failed to go back to original programming. Viewers who connect a coaxial cable from the wall of their home directly into the back of their TV set were not affected.

"We're looking to correct things that went wrong, so (the system) is there in times of need," added Durkin, noting outlets have 45 days to tell the Federal Communications Commission their results.

At 2 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, all U.S. TV and radio stations were supposed to broadcast the 30-second message in a first-ever test of the nationwide EAS. But broadcasters locally and nationwide found mixed results from the automatic system.

At WFLA, the station was primed for the EAS message, running an onscreen text "crawl" to alert viewers and preparing a live anchor to explain what happened. But a technical glitch prevented the test message from airing, according to WFLA news director Don North.

A spokesman for Verizon FiOS said its cable TV system automatically routed viewers to a special EAS screen, switching back to original programming when the test was complete.

According to the New York Times, glitches surfaced across the nation. A Minneapolis viewer saw the test three minutes late; in Greensboro, N.C., a local reporter said no area broadcast networks aired the message but all the cable news channels did.

Before the test, officials seemed most concerned that viewers would think an actual emergency was occurring and not a test.

But local TV stations reported no such complaints; warnings about the test have been broadcast for weeks, and the test message closely resembled similar local EAS tests conducted regularly by broadcasters.

Emergency Alert System test on TV riddled with glitches 11/09/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 10, 2011 12:30am]
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