CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Don't believe everything you read on social media, especially if it involves a purported "secret" exercise that will shut down communications and power across the country this weekend.
That's the message from military spokespersons who are being inundated with inquiries about the alleged plot.
That exercise is only a drill, according to a Department of Defense spokesperson, who added this will be the fourth year the exercise has taken place.
Eric Horton, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, or NETCOM, said this latest drill is simply the latest quarterly exercise of a preparedness initiative that has been going on for years.
But despite the ongoing exercises, word began spreading ahead of this weekend's planned training exercise that would simulate the impacts of an electromagnetic pulse on the nation's power grid.
"This is the first time this quarterly exercise has received such widespread public attention," Horton said.
The purpose of the program is to test vital communications links between the Department of Defense, the Army, local first responders and the hundreds of trained volunteers. Among those volunteers are amateur radio operators who have played an important role assisting federal authorities with communications after Hurricane Irma decimated Puerto Rico's power grid.
Several viewers shared a social media post warning people to stock up on food and supplies and prepare to be without power for days, even weeks. They also warn that the so-called pulse will knock out emergency generators, likely resulting in deaths across the country.
The posts also make another claim that should raise a red flag: that the Department of Defense is intentionally not releasing the information to the major media because they don't want to cause a panic. If the information isn't being released publicly, one might reasonably ask how the people raising the warning would know about it to begin with.
Horton insists the conspiracy theory is false.
"The scenario is simulated," he said. "There will be no turning off of the power grid or public or private communications."
The exercise will operate as if such a loss of power and communications has occurred, even though nothing is actually shut down.
The Army's Military Auxiliary Radio System, or MARS, is designed to maintain communications between federal, military and local authorities in the event of a widespread emergency that involves the loss of traditional communications channels.
"MARS conducts these exercises on a regular basis," Horton said. This particular exercise was scheduled more than a year ago, he said.
According to a post on the American Amateur Radio League's website dated Oct. 24, the "communications interoperability" training exercise will take place Saturday through Monday, "once again simulating a 'very bad day' scenario."
This year's scenario, the post states, will simulate the effects of a solar coronal mass ejection, a significant release of plasma and magnetic field from the sun.
"This exercise will begin with a national massive coronal mass ejection event which will impact the national power grid as well as all forms of traditional communication, including landline telephone, cellphone, satellite, and Internet connectivity," the post states.
The site then explains that during the exercise, a "designated DOD Headquarters entity will request county-by-county status reports" nationwide, which would be done in a real crisis to determine the extent of the impact of such an event.
Horton said many of the MARS members are part of the amateur radio community and are connected with the ARRL and will take part in the exercise.