What if we cry wolf and no one is listening?
Everything, it seems, has become politicized in our society. And now my fear is that our Emergency Alert System will become politicized. This valuable system has for decades been an effective tool to alert consumers about impending tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes, and myriad other disasters. When consumers hear that annoying tone on the radio, they sit up and pay attention.
The president announced this week that he will do the first presidential EAS alert in history. He will break into your broadcast and offer a presidential message.
In the history of the EAS, no president has broken in to make an announcement. President George W. Bush did not feel it necessary to do a nationwide alert on EAS when we were under attack in 2001.
Why does this president feel the need to force himself on all radio listeners and do the first presidential test of the alert system?
Politics, that's why. The president is in campaign mode and is interested in rebuilding his ratings in the polls, and I suspect he feels this is a good way to force his voice upon all Americans listening to the radio.
It'’s a giant mistake for ANY president to place his or her voice on the system as a test. There are very few instances when a message from the president himself is necessary. Yes, if there is a national emergency, a government official may need to speak to the masses. But why the president? And why do this now?
If you think I'm being political, I'm not. No president should be doing this.
The FCC is unanimously behind this, and it's something many state broadcasters' associations have been pushing for. So why am I so dead set against this concept? First, it's open to abuse. No politician can resist the opportunity to try to make him- or herself look good. Do you think any president will resist that impulse when they have the ears of everyone listening to the radio? What if a president in office decides to declare more emergencies -- that is, more excuses to take over radio?
And there's another danger: Presidents are polarizing figures. A lot of Americans may hear the president's voice and simply turn off the radio. It's like the child who cried wolf. If the president is giving a message -- and they don't like the president -- the next time they hear that EAS signal (another test?), they won't be listening. What if that’s the time there's a real emergency and people need to listen?
I strongly urge the White House not to do the presidential test. Don't desensitize listeners to EAS. There are other ways to make sure it's working.