February 11, 2011

Please Stand By -- This is Only a Test

A small news story grabbed my attention as the nightly news droned on over our dinner. The FCC, apparently after years of asking, has approval to test a "Presidential Emergency Test."

Like the Emergency Broadcast System which is periodically tested with a high-pitched alert alarm, this "Presidential Alert" allows the networks to access a special code which in turn broadcasts the President in times of national emergency.

Does anyone else find this creepy beyond belief?

I am by nature suspicious of everything, and also conjure visions of natural disasters and terrorist plots that might make this useful. As the Washington Post pointed out, this has shades of Nineteen Eighty Four.

As a society, we are constantly watched by Google and private security firms, so why not have an Instant Link to the White House like something from a 1960s Cold War movie. Can't you just see the Soviet citizens in Red Square watching black and white television monitors?

Here's some fear and loathing: can you imagine what the Gubmint knows that we don't know? Why now? If I sound paranoid and delusional, well, it is because I am.

I do not keep the television on during my work day. When I started working at home full time last November, I actually removed a television from my office. The View and Jeopardy are just too distracting as I do my important work (reading Facebook and writing columns about my cat and my paranoid delusions).

I often turn a set on when I'm eating lunch. I cannot imagine how this Presidential Emergency Broadcast system will work. Disasters and terror attacks don't lend themselves to instant understanding.

If this system had been in place on 9/11, what would the president have said? President Bush The Younger made several short statements during the day as he flew above the country in Air Force One, not certain what was happening in DC or elsewhere.

As someone who is interested in "information flow," I just don't know how this could work, or how effective it would be. In my case studies class in graduate school, we examined the information which came out immediately after Three Mile Island. The information and the partial meltdown were both disasters. The information about the accident came out slowly over five days. I am suspicious about how a Presidential Emergency Alert could have helped in that example (of course it is not of national scope, but it could have been.)

And now for an announcement from the President of the United States. ......president walks up that long hall into the East Room.......

"Run, run like hell....before it is too late....."

This Presidential Alert System should probably be rethought -- or maybe ask Alex Trebek to make the announcements.

Today's Final Jeopardy answer is: annihilation, contestants. And the correct question is, "What in the world is happening?"