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Hey Good lookin'! I'll be back to nuke you up later!
June 27, 2007 5:16 PM   Subscribe

AHHHH!!! An unintentional disruption pre-empted morning radio and television throughout Illinois this week when a FEMA contractor mistakenly sent the highest level of alert codes (Presidential) through the Emergency Alert System during the installation of an upgrade. (A year to the day after the upgrades were ordered) It's not the first time false warnings have been sent. Apparently (before the upgrades) the EAS data headers had no authentication and someone could have hacked a t.v. or radio station using a Mr. Microphone. The old Emergency Broadcast System had an authenticator word list, like the tone, and the voice, the words themselves were slightly unsettling. I know the old EBS tests used to scare the hell out of me. The 1971 false alarm was initiated with the code word: HATEFULNESS.
posted by Smedleyman (31 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, what good is an emergency broadcast system if it doesn't keep you on your toes?
posted by spiderwire at 5:22 PM on June 27, 2007


When I was a commercial radio jock in the early 80s, one night I thought I'd take a listen to the cart containing the actual national emergency announcement. It was scary as hell, telling people to not use their telephones except for official government business and other stuff like that. Starts out like the test, of course, but then goes into those nightmare places that those of us who were adults during the Cold War are all too familiar with.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:32 PM on June 27, 2007


No worries; just enter
4 8 15 16 23 42
posted by rob511 at 5:35 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Favorite post ever.
posted by mykescipark at 5:43 PM on June 27, 2007


Yes, because FEMA reacts so quickly this could have been a real disaster.
posted by four panels at 6:04 PM on June 27, 2007


Whatever happened to that terror color level of the day that used to be on every station, anyway?

Oh, yeah ...
posted by RMD at 6:15 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


I can appreciate the fear that something like this might cause -- I get a little jumpy when they use the EBN for the rare tornado warnings, but then, I'm about 2 microseconds away in the blast radius from DC.
posted by Dave Faris at 6:18 PM on June 27, 2007


heh

caught the whole snafu live while the kids were watching PBS.....damned scary for a sec
posted by timsteil at 6:30 PM on June 27, 2007


This is a test.
This is only a test.
If this had been an actual emergency you would have been instructed to PANIC!!!
This concludes this test.
posted by wendell at 6:34 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, damn. I hadn't heard about this until just now. As a Chicago resident, what this tells me is that if the bomb does drop then I won't know about it ahead of time. I guess I can always just duck. And... oh yeah, cover.
posted by rlk at 6:35 PM on June 27, 2007


So what exactly was broadcast? "Launch all weapons!" or just some cryptic words and numbers?
posted by Rock Steady at 6:46 PM on June 27, 2007


Fantastic frikkin' title, BTW.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:47 PM on June 27, 2007


I heard the broadcast here in St. Louis as I was getting ready for work. It was the usual EBS chirps and squeaks, similar to a modem connecting. It went on for much longer than usual though, about 30 seconds. When the NPR broadcast rejoined it had flipped back to national NPR in midstory which made me think the local station hadn't registered the interruption.

As I was driving home from work I heard the national NPR story about the cockup. In the more tinfoil hatted depths of my being it gave me pause. They had an accident? With a new system? To broadcast emergency messages from the President? I have been reading that four-part Washington Post story on Cheney though, so . . .
posted by MarvinTheCat at 6:55 PM on June 27, 2007


This was only a test.
If this had been an actual Nuclear War
Over 90% of you would already be dead
The remaining 10% will painfully, agonizingly join the dead
within the next few days.
This message, followed by the National Anthem,
will continue to be played, however
as it will be beamed into space as a warning
so our alien cousins may never repeat our mistakes.
Thank you and God Bless America.
posted by Avenger at 7:09 PM on June 27, 2007 [6 favorites]


It was the usual EBS chirps and squeaks

ObPedant. EAS, which replaced EBS. The problem with EBS is that is was built very much on the "We're all going to die" concept. EAS included regional encoding.

The reason we in St. Louis didn't get the dead air is because the message string sent was encoded for all Illinois stations, so when the EAN went out (without an EAT to turn it off, natch), the Illinois stations monitoring cut over for the Emergency Action broadcast, but Missouri stations didn't.

Digression: One of the clever codes used is TOE -- Telephone Outage Emergency, which is sent when an area loses 911 service for some reason.
posted by eriko at 7:15 PM on June 27, 2007


I grew up in the Harrisburg area, just across the river from Three Mile Island. About a year after the Three Mile Island incident, I heard that a local TV station accidentally triggered an emergency broadcasting signal by re-running a sitcom, which somehow included the previous emergency broadcast signal from the Three Mile Island accident.
posted by jonp72 at 7:23 PM on June 27, 2007 [1 favorite]


Heh. I just now noticed the post title. What prompted that little bit of whimsy?
posted by spiderwire at 7:57 PM on June 27, 2007


So what exactly was broadcast?

Basically, silence and then WGN host Spike O'Dell wondering what was going on.

I was glad the story referenced the 1959 activation of the air raid sirens to celebrate when the White Sox won the pennant (what if they'd won the world series? shoot off the Nikes for fireworks?). (The fire superintendent was responsible, rather than as commonly thought Mayor Richard J. Daley.) It was all a bit War of the Worlds broadcast for a few people (and not every siren even got turned on, some district managers objected). One of my dad's University of Chicago classmates wrote a thesis on it, titled perfectly, Joy in Mudville.
posted by dhartung at 10:00 PM on June 27, 2007


I'm about 2 microseconds away in the blast radius from DC.

Mom always told us it would be a mercy if we were killed instantly in a nuclear war rather than suffer the aftermath.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:03 PM on June 27, 2007


I remember being at a presentation by someone from the FCC to the Bay Area Broadcast Engineering Society (BABES, which is almost completely not otherwise descriptive) about the "new" EAS system (and demos of the crappy boxes that were type approved for the purpose). This was in 97 or 98, soon after the new system was introduced.

Immediately after the demo, one of the engineers present made the exact point that the Reg article above makes, that there is nothing stopping someone from generating bogus codes and causing havoc. I'm surprised it never happened.
posted by oats at 10:13 PM on June 27, 2007


Heh. I just now noticed the post title. What prompted that little bit of whimsy?

In the OP: Apparently (before the upgrades) the EAS data headers had no authentication and someone could have hacked a t.v. or radio station using a Mr. Microphone.
posted by Dave Faris at 10:16 PM on June 27, 2007


OK, DF -- how does that relate to, "Hey Good lookin'! I'll be back to nuke you up later!"?
posted by spiderwire at 12:52 AM on June 28, 2007


how does that relate to, "Hey Good lookin'! I'll be back to nuke you up later!"?

One of the television commercials for Mr. Microphone had a guy in a car broadcasting a pick-up line from his very own Mr. Microphone: "Hey good lookin'! I'll be back to pick you up later!"

Very clever, Smedleyman.
posted by amyms at 2:10 AM on June 28, 2007


Mr. Microphone commercial on Youtube.
posted by Dave Faris at 3:16 AM on June 28, 2007


Spike O'Dell on every radio station all at once!? Oh, the huge manatee!
posted by SteveInMaine at 3:27 AM on June 28, 2007


This still isn't as bad as the EAS test during the end of the 2004 World Series. That must have caused a few heart attacks among the Red Sox faithful.
posted by yerfatma at 4:04 AM on June 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


I live in Illinois and was completely unaware of this. I guess I'm doomed in the event there is an actual emergency because I don't watch enough television.

jonp12, that's creepy. Do you know what sitcom it was?
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:25 AM on June 28, 2007


One of the television commercials for Mr. Microphone had a guy in a car broadcasting a pick-up line from his very own Mr. Microphone: "Hey good lookin'! I'll be back to pick you up later!"

Also featured in a well-remembered Simpsons episode.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:43 AM on June 28, 2007


“I live in Illinois and was completely unaware of this”

A lot of people were. One of the gripes with the system is that not everyone can be reached via t.v. and radio. They’ve been looking at notification through phones, cel, and other electronic means.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:01 PM on June 28, 2007


I ran the EAS system at my college radio station one year ago and there was zero authentication in the EAS box we had. If it hears the EAS message header "chirp", it will break into whatever it broadcasting on the local station (with a relay) and change over to repeating whatever station made the header call. The hardware and software combination that ran the EAS operations were very recent, having just been upgraded in 2000-2001ish.
posted by yellowbkpk at 7:11 PM on June 28, 2007


Can we just get to the part where J.C. Denton blows up Dick Cheney already?
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:50 PM on June 30, 2007


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