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Explaining The Zombie Conspiracy Theories Around FEMA's Emergency Alert Test

We can't believe we have to say this.

By Cassidy Ward

George Romero’s classic zombie flick Night of the Living Dead (streaming now on Peacock) leaned into the public’s fear of emerging technology to sell the narrative. The movie came out in 1968, at the height of the Space Race. Sputnik had flown just more than a decade earlier, sparking panic across the United States, and the domain of space was a massive unknown.

RELATED: Bats, Bacteria, and Brains: The Science Behind a Zombie Outbreak

When Romero needed a cause for his zombies, space radiation from a returning probe was the obvious choice. People were excited about space travel, but they were also worried about the unknowns. Same as it ever was. As the decades rolled on, zombies became more popular even as their origin stories evolved with the times to mirror whatever emerging thing was the fear du jour. Today, the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in partnership with the FCC conducted a test of the Emergency Alert System and conspiracy theorists are having a heyday.

FEMA’s Upcoming Emergency Alert Test is Bringing Out the Conspiracie Theories

The October 4, 2023, test of the Emergency Alert System is just the latest in a long line of emergency alert tests and played out the same way they always have: uneventfully. Yet, conspiracy theorists would have you believe it’s an insidious plot by the United States government to do… what? We’re not really sure.

The claims are always vague by design and often pull previously existing conspiracy theories into their orbit. A common claim is that the signal will somehow interact with the Covid vaccine in your body to control or harm you. It might even turn you into a zombie! A TikTok spreading around the internet shows an individual with apparently "secret knowledge." He says that “something” is coming, though he doesn’t say what that thing is, and “how much metal you have in your body will affect you when this thing happens. It has to do with frequency. It could happen tomorrow but they’re going to say it’s something else. Just stick a piece of foil in a microwave and picture that in your body… and now you know the devil’s plan.”

28 Days Later

I mean, we’d like to know the devil’s plan, but you haven’t really told us anything. Moving on. On X, the platform previously known as Twitter, infamous commentator Glenn Beck wondered to himself and the world, “FEMA is conducting a nationwide emergency alert system test on Wednesday. Russia is also conducting emergency tests this week to prepare for nuclear blasts. That’s JUST a coincidence though, right? Nothing to worry about, right???” Yeah. It really was nothing to worry about. We all got a text message. It was alright.

And it wouldn’t be a conspiracy theory without a little numerology. Another post on X, from user @matttttt187 breaks down the alleged secret message in FEMA’s test announcement. See, the test happened at 2:20 p.m. Eastern Time and will last for 30 minutes, which matters for reasons which will definitely (but probably not) become clear momentarily. If you write down the start and end times of the test in military time, you get 14:20 and 14:50. Then, if you remove the zeroes and add the digits together you get 17 which corresponds with the letter Q in the alphabet and means… we won't even go there.

Many users are also recommending that everyone turn off their phones during the test to protect themselves. How, precisely, that will protect you from a signal being sent over the air is unclear. It also fails to acknowledge that if the government wanted to send a harmful signal over the air, they could do it without announcing it or letting us know. Apparently FEMA graduated from the Lex Luthor school of announcing your dastardly plans before you carry them out. You know, for the gravitas.

What’s Really Going on With the EAS Test?

FEMA recently announced a planned test of both the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system for October 4, 2023. It was a nationwide test within the United States of both systems at the same time. Many folks received alerts to a number of devices concurrently, including televisions, radios, and cell phones.

The test is scheduled for 2:20 Eastern Time and lasted approximately 30 minutes, ending at roughly 2:50 Eastern. During that 30 minute window, cell towers across the country will broadcast the alert signal but you won’t receive the alert the entire time. As long as your phone is connected to a tower, you’ll get a single text message. The message will state “THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed” or “ESTA ES UNA PRUEBA del Sistema Nacional de Alerta de Emergencia. No se necesita acción” depending on the language settings on your phone. That’s the WEA system being tested.

At the same time, the EAS system will send a signal to televisions and radios. This portion of the test is expected to last one minute and will be similar to historical tests of the Emergency Alert System. The EAS message on your television and radio will state, “This is a nationwide test of the Emergency Alert System, issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, covering the United States from 14:20 to 14:50 hours ET. This is only a test. No action is required by the public.”

Those of us old enough to remember the pre-internet days should remember tests just like these were pretty common. A generation of kids grew up falling asleep to the monotone words of “This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System” and this is really no different. A government must have a way to communicate quickly and effectively with its citizens and those methods must evolve as technology evolves. Suddenly deciding that a system purpose designed to keep us safer is now a threat is... certainly a choice.

Perhaps more than that, if you really believe this is a battle in an ongoing shadow war, than it’s a war you’ve already lost. This will be the third test of the WEA system (the second nationwide test) and the seventh test of the EAS system. If you’re hoping to stop an insidious government plot carried out through emergency broadcasts, you’re a few decades behind.

Watch some zombies before you become one in Night of the Living Dead, streaming now on Peacock.

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