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Exercise Wednesday: This is not a test…

posted in: Writing Prompts | 0

Forty-four years ago, radio and television stations across the country received this on their teletype machines. It wasn’t a test of the emergency broadcast system; it was the real thing. (Hatefulness is the code word that was supposed to prove this was authentic.)

While most people heard the Emergency Broadcast System via its tests or when there were severe weather warnings, it was initially built to respond to a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.

On February 20, 1971, someone goofed and this got sent out. The teletype machines of the time had a bell system to communicate when there was an emergency. Ten bells meant something really bad happened. Having worked at a radio station during the teletype era, that really bad thing was typically interpreted to mean Global Thermonuclear War.

It took 40 minutes before a retraction got sent out. Keep in mind, there wasn’t an Internet then. Most people relied on television and radio for immediate news. And all the TV and radio stations got the same alert. And the alert basically meant the end of life for the vast majority of the people who heard it, most likely within an hour or so.

Today’s post invites you to imagine what would happen if you–or a character of yours–were around that day and either heard the ten bells sound or head an announcement about it on the radio.

If you’re younger than 40, this one might be hard.

Time limit: 20 minutes

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Chris Hamilton is the current FWA Executive Vice President and the Project Manager for the Florida Writers Conference. He is a three-time RPLA finalist and has been featured in two FWA collections. He opines periodically about things of minimal importance at his personal blog.

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