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You may now evacuate in your pants
February 20, 2013 10:28 AM   Subscribe

On the morning of Saturday, February 20, 1971, Wayland S. Eberhardt, a civilian teletype operator, was going about his routine duties at the National Emergency Warning Center at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, when he made a minor error in mounting a tape. What happened next became the Great EBS Scare of 1971.
posted by pjern (42 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is pretty fascinating, thanks. If MetaFilter had been around in the day, there would have been such a MeTa about it!

Also, am I the only person who a) found the yellow text on white back to be rather alarming and b) read "Great EBS Scare" as "Great IBS Scare?"
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:41 AM on February 20, 2013


This is a test. This comment is a test of the Emergency Commenting System. This is only a test. If this had been an actual comment, you would have read a humorous punchline here. This concludes this test of the Emergency Commenting System.
posted by notme at 10:45 AM on February 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


EBS scare or IBS scare?
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 10:48 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Something about the authentication code being "hatefulness" makes it even more scary. Reading the account would have felt different if they had gone with a more neutral term like "clover" or, better yet, "bunnies."

And then, when the code to revoke the previous message was "impish," that makes it feel like the whole thing had been some kind of a joke. The happenstance of the authenticators really adds color to the account.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:49 AM on February 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


The title is wrong. Simply wrong. You do not evacuate in your pants, cuz then, how you gonna kiss your ass goodbye, huh? What were you thinking!
posted by Goofyy at 10:50 AM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Great story, thanks for posting! People must have been freaking out.
posted by carter at 10:50 AM on February 20, 2013


In the past three tapes, one for the test and two for actual emergencies, were hanging on three labeled hooks above the transmitter… In the future only the test tape will be left near the transmitter. The two emergency tapes [will be] be sealed in clearly marked envelopes and placed inside a nearby cabinet.
Yeah, uh, good "fix" there geniuses. Who could have ever predicted hanging the "OMG WORLD IS OVER" tape next to "DOO DE DOOO JUST TESTIN SHIT OUT" tape would have caused problems?
posted by odinsdream at 10:54 AM on February 20, 2013 [14 favorites]


This is a test. This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. This is only a test. If this had been an actual alert ....

....you'd all be dead now.

Sounds funny now. Wasn't funny then.
posted by mule98J at 10:54 AM on February 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


You do not evacuate in your pants, cuz then, how you gonna kiss your ass goodbye, huh?

I'm not sure how yours works, but when I exit my pants my ass (and lips) come with me.
posted by DU at 11:04 AM on February 20, 2013


That's less of an "in" and more of a "from," DU.
posted by Now there are two. There are two _______. at 11:13 AM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Dammit, I got that joke and then scanned and scanned for an "in" and didn't find one. Who changed the post title and all the rest of reality out from under me?
posted by DU at 11:33 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Whew! It's a good thing nowadays we have this internet thing to keep false rumors from getting started!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:41 AM on February 20, 2013


I was a hippie at the time, and my friends and I were too busy ignoring mainstream media to have any idea that large swaths of the population had been alerted to Armageddon.
posted by Huplescat at 11:48 AM on February 20, 2013


You do not evacuate in your pants, cuz then, how you gonna kiss your ass goodbye, huh?

I'm not sure how yours works, but when I exit my pants my ass (and lips) come with me.


That's the interesting thing about the term 'evacuate' - it generally means 'to empty, or remove something from'. That's why you evacuate theaters or buildings or whatever. If you are evacuating the people themselves, it gets messy with alarming rapidity.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:55 AM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like to think of it as getting the nation into a heightened state of readiness for my birth two days later.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:21 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Listening to that radio broadcast: If you heard a Partridge Family song being interrupted by an ambiguous message of immediate apocalypse over your radio, wouldn't you be relieved? Wouldn't you think civilization deserved it--that it made sense?
posted by Luminiferous Ether at 12:21 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


You do not evacuate in your pants, cuz then, how you gonna kiss your ass goodbye, huh?

Everyone should be shitfaced when the End comes. How they get there is their own business.
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:27 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Evacuate your bowels, more like it.
posted by Relay at 12:31 PM on February 20, 2013


First yesterday's awesome (and terrifying) post about Stanislav Petrov, and now this. Is it Old Home Week for my childhood's nuclear nightmares?
posted by RakDaddy at 1:00 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huplescat: "I was a hippie at the time, and my friends and I were too busy ignoring mainstream media to have any idea that large swaths of the population had been alerted to Armageddon."

Once a hippie, always a hippy (in spirit at least)!

I was old enough to have heard about this, but have no recollection of anything except the Partridge Family, their bus and of course Ruben Kincaid their manager. Had the typical crush on Susan Dey.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:11 PM on February 20, 2013


Emergency notificaiton systems seem to fail in this way with some regularity. Not every year necessarily, but every few years and it's always human error. San Francisco had a brief WTF moment last year when the emergency siren went off and no one could tell what the hell for. I did the only sensible thing and looked on Twitter, which was full of people saying "did you hear the siren go off? strange!". Makes me shudder to think what would happen with a real emergency.

Metafilter: MESSAGE AUTHENTICATOR: HATEFULNESS/HATEFULNESS
posted by Nelson at 1:27 PM on February 20, 2013


Nowadays we have zombie alerts.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 1:31 PM on February 20, 2013


Is it just me, or are "hatefulness" and "impish" not the most creepy/ominous authentication words possibly imaginable for this application?
posted by blue t-shirt at 1:34 PM on February 20, 2013


The best part was them frantically trying to terminate the alert without using the codeword. I'm sure it was kept safely in a place no one could remember when the shit hit the fan.
posted by tommasz at 1:42 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have a vague memory of this. I was 7 years old, and we were living on the Isle of Palms, just outside of Charleston, SC. I recall my Dad rushing outside, along with all the other men on our street. I guess they were looking for missiles in the sky - Charleston had a big Navy base with both ships and submarines and I think an Air Force base at the time. I'm not sure how long it took to figure out this was a mistake.

Being 7, I didn't quite get what all the commotion was about, but my parents and all the other adults on our street talked about it for a long time afterwards.
posted by ralan at 1:43 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Is it Old Home Week for my childhood's nuclear nightmares?

My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:54 PM on February 20, 2013


radiotapes.com has a recording from WCCO-AM in Minneapolis/St. Paul of the EAN Activation and the retraction.
posted by eriko at 2:08 PM on February 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, as Nelson said, this seems to happen more often than you would think.

When I was a kid in Montreal, the only American station we could get on our set was a CBS station in Plattsburgh, VT. Those test messages were incredibly unsettling, even when we knew they were just testing. I much preferred Canadian PSAs about interesting wild animals and snowplow safety.
posted by maudlin at 2:12 PM on February 20, 2013


Is it just me, or are "hatefulness" and "impish" not the most creepy/ominous authentication words possibly imaginable for this application?

They're also absolutely perfect for a message that would have amounted to: "We'd like to let you know the President of the United States and the Premier of the Soviet Union have jointly decided to destroy your world and kill you (if you're lucky) or make your life a living hell (if you're not)."
posted by cosmic.osmo at 2:16 PM on February 20, 2013


Is it just me, or are "hatefulness" and "impish" not the most creepy/ominous authentication words possibly imaginable for this application?

Seriously. I made a CODE NAME: HATEFULNESS joke to my friends after Friday's meteor. As with most of my jokes, no one got it. I'm glad pjern made this post; I was thinking of making one about this myself after Friday.

I love that CONELRAD blog, because Cold War horror has a real punch to me. Even as a child of the '80s, I was well afraid of nuclear war. After the Cold War came to an end, I was also worried about the destruction of rogue nukes. (I was a neurotic kid.) Until sometime in my twenties, I slept with a radio or TV on in my room, because I had trouble sleeping in total dark and silence. I wanted to be able to wake up in the middle of the night and see the TV, or hear the radio, and know from the chatter that the world was not yet ended.

I kind of miss the old EBS tone. I heard it a lot, growing up in a tornado zone.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:49 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


what the Hell! I was just reading about this last night - well, about 4:00 this morning. I was in a sort of fascination loop with the Emergency Broadcast System, and I had already been working on a sound/video piece using the announcement This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. For the next sixty seconds...

I demand to know what you are doing in my head.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:56 PM on February 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I kind of miss the old EBS tone.


The new one is all weird and shrill and farty and sounds like it's broken.
posted by louche mustachio at 2:58 PM on February 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Isn't the new one some sort of blat of modulated data? Cause it sure sounds like a telemetry burst or modem handshake. Is it meant to be able to be recorded off the air and decoded in some eventualities? Or is it part of the tone-pattern that triggers broadcast override equipment? You'd think they'd use a non-audible subcarrier for that, like the way a radio repeater is keyed up. But I guess complexity is not desired here.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:00 PM on February 20, 2013


I also thought the new one sounded broken, then this last fake alert thing happened, and i'm leaning towards burst of encoded data, as well, does anyone have more info?
posted by odinsdream at 5:14 PM on February 20, 2013


CQ CQ THIS IS CRYSTAL PEAK.. COME IN MONTANA CIVIL DEFENSE.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:17 PM on February 20, 2013


The new warning tone does indeed include a burst of audio-encoded data. The system is now called SAME and not only includes national emergency alerts but weather alerts for the US and Canada.

The burst is sent on the audio carrier so that some devices, like weather radios, can wake up and play the alert when it matches codes (e.g., the tornado is headed for your county and not the one next door)
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:26 PM on February 20, 2013


Just to add on, I'm a cold war kid as well. That warning tone always scared the shit out of me - mostly because I lived in a tornado zone but yeah, Reagan and nukes and shit. They used a pretty damned realistic EBS simulation on "The Day After" and that freaked me out more than the US getting nuked.

And now, thanks to the magic of After Effects and YouTube, you can relive those days once again. People like this guy will whip up fake EAN broadcasts for anything you want. Zombies, nuclear plant meltdowns, the Chinese, you think it up and it can be your own personal nightmare. We live in amazing times.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:50 PM on February 20, 2013


Relay: "Evacuate your bowels, more like it."

That was my thought, Relay.
posted by deborah at 8:22 PM on February 20, 2013


Isn't the new one some sort of blat of modulated data?

YES. That is what that sound is. A BLAT.


Though I understand its function (and after all, an alarm is supposed to be unpleasant, or at least shrill) I miss the old tone. And the old announcements- they would break programming to make the testing announcement. It did fill me with a bit of thrill and dread- I also lived in a tornado-prone area, and am also a cold-war child (though we didn't got any of the good, hardcore Civil Defense indoctrination that strikes me as terrifying in its measured, dry tone.) Now there is just this sputtering blat of data and a scroll instead of a spoken announcement.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:30 PM on February 20, 2013


I'm impressed by the announcer's ability to keep talking through those terrible five minutes.
Another Cold War kid here.
posted by doctornemo at 5:15 AM on February 21, 2013


Hail, fellow Cold War Kids.

This really brought it all back... the "Duck and Cover" movies, the fallout shelters, the bomb drills, and especially the eager young science teachers who explained to us that it was all BS and that after the bombs came we'd all want to die if we weren't dead already.

Oh yes, it surely was a fun time, when a simple tone on the B&W TV could cause your heart rate to instantly double.
posted by kinnakeet at 6:57 AM on February 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Holy shit. I think this happened at the exact time I was born. Freaky...
posted by widdershins at 12:04 PM on February 21, 2013


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