Yes, this was new in that it was the first time the whole system was tested nationwide at the same time. There was a lot of concern on the part of the FCC and FEMA because in some places and on some stations/cable outlets, the only way they could announce that it was a test and not the real thing was on the audio track. So they were very anxious to get the word out especially to deaf people.
Warning the nation via broadcasting, by the way, goes all the way back to the 1950s, during the days of fallout shelters and "duck and cover." In those days the system and the tests were call CONELRAD, which I remember clearly was an acronym for "Control of Electromagnetic Radiation." Broadcasting is by definition electromagentic radiation, so I guess that made sense. Then in the 60s it became EBS, the "Emergency Broadcast System." Each station was connected to a sort of "mother ship" station in each market, and we ran tests regularly involving those annoying tones and interrupting the plate current on the transmitter (in other words, turning it off for a few seconds). I was an FCC licensed transmitter operator back on those days (working in radio), and there were strict protocols for carrying out these tests. Later EBS morphed into the "Emergency Action Notification System," and finally to whatever it is that happened today.
It did occur to me to wonder that since they were so worried about the test vis a vis deaf people, why they didn't do it at 5am instead of 2pm, when there would be far fewer viewers/listeners, but those are just the ravings of a lunatic.
At least Orson Welles had the good sense to do "War of the Worlds" on Halloween. Anybody know what I'm talking about? Anyone? Anyone?