New emergency alert system will give Obama the power to flip a switch and address the entire nation at once

The Obama administration quietly announced on Tuesday that it intends to change the way Americans learn about natural disasters and other major emergencies during radio and TV broadcasts, giving the president the ability to flip a switch and address the entire nation at once.

The Emergency Alert System, the latest version of a program first established in 1951, blasts out emergency messages in the event of local weather emergencies, but can also be used to warn Americans about terror attacks and major natural disasters.

Every broadcaster in the country is required to participate in the EAS. Messages travel along a closed, private network, piggybacking from station to station. It can take up to 10 minutes for every radio, TV, cable and satellite provider to blare its alert.

Television screens display text messages during Emergency Alert System events, and could be used by future White Houses for a variety of purposes.

Most messages in the system are restricted to specific states, counties or other geographic areas. But now the Federal Communications Commission has filed public notice of a rule change that would bypass the daisy-chain entirely and give the federal government instant access to all the nation’s airwaves at once, in the event of a national emergency.

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