Occurring on early Friday, a handful of T-Mobile customers were treated to a test of the Personal Localized Alert Network (PLAN) that occurred before any scheduled public test. Originally reported by Lance Ulanoff over at Mashable, the test involved a startling noise that played on his HTC Radar 4G that was similar to the alert siren heard when the Emergency Broadcast System is tested on a television, likely taking T-Mobile customers by surprise. Upon checking the screen of the HTC Radar 4G, Ulanoff discovered the words “Presidential Alert” as well as “Test” sent in the format of a text message. T-Mobile issued a statement on late Friday that apologized for the mistake and mentioned that the test was supposed to be distributed to a small group of beta testers.
PLAN is designed to target specific geographic locations and issue alerts when needed. For instance, police could use the system for issuing Amber Alerts when a child goes missing. State government officials can use the system to alert the public quickly about incoming threats such as a hurricane or massive flooding. In addition, the President of the United States will be able to send out nationwide alerts in case of a threat to national security. In order to make phones with compatible hardware work with PLAN, wireless carriers have to push out software updates that enable the alert noise as well as the messaging. Major carriers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint have pledged to make all hardware-enabled phones compatible by April 2012.
While all phones aren’t going to work with PLAN due to the lack of the circuitry required to function, the FCC hopes that cell phone manufacturers will use compatibility as a selling feature when debuting new models of phones. The government doesn’t expect the alerts to become frequent, although living in a major city will likely increase the probability of receiving Amber Alert texts from local authorities.