False Tsunami Warning incites confusion, panic along east coast Mecklenburg residents receive tsunami warnings on Tuesday
The issues and subsequent confusion and panic regarding alert system test transmissions going out to the public as actual warnings continued this week as many East Coast, Caribbean and Gulf Coast residents received alerts on their cell phones warning of a non-existent tsunami on Tuesday morning.
The alerts were received in areas as far inland as South Hill, Boydton and other areas of Mecklenburg County.
This incident comes on the heels of the Hawaiian Missile Alert fiasco that caused thousands of Hawaiians to wake up to an emergency alert advising them to take cover due to an incoming missile.
This accidental alert was later explained and excused away, blamed on human error and a poorly designed system, but only after first inciting panic into thousands upon thousands of Hawaiians and West Coast residents.
Tuesday’s alert was of a different nature, although it did incite panic into many people who received the warning about 8:30 in the morning.
Some East Coast cell phone users’ alerts even noted the large wave would strike the coast within the hour, by 9:28 a.m.
The issue apparently stemmed from third party cell phone applications that registered the test alert transmission as an actual warning. These apps sent out ‘severe weather’ and ‘emergency’ Tsunami warnings instead of notifications of the test.
These alert system test transmissions are conducted periodically to ensure the system is in proper working order should an actual emergency occur. According to the National Weather Service, Miami branch, these Tsunami alert tests are conducted on a monthly basis.
Accuweather, one of the apps responsible for the false warning, later released a statement advising that the National Weather Service miscoded the test alert, causing the apps to read the message as a warning.
“AccuWeather passed on a National Weather Service Tsunami Warning that was intended by the NWS to be a test but was miscoded by the NWS as a real warning,” the statement advised. “While the word ‘test’ was in the header, the actual codes read by computers used coding for real warning, indicating it was a real warning.“
In other cases, the tests transmission alerts went out correctly but were misread or misunderstood by cell phone users who interpreted the message as a legitimate Tsunami warning.
In yet other cases, cell phone users who may not have received the original, incorrect alerts received a second round of alerts, which were supposed to advise that there was no threat, but were miscoded like the first and again incorrectly warned of the non-existent tsunami.
“The NWS itself further compounded the issue when it issued a second ‘corrected’ warning that was not in the standard format, but did correct the original coding error. The second corrected, but miss-formatted tsunami warning is believed to be responsible for the additional tsunami warnings published by some other companies after the initial wave of warnings,” Accuweather stated in a second release.
Social media erupted in panic on Tuesday morning as residents up and down the East Cost attempted to figure out if they were actually in danger or not.
“Mass hysteria here in Charleston,” a nurse in South Carolina commented on social media.
“I freaked out, won’t lie,” stated Britnee St. Clair of Jacksonville, N.C., in a tweet. “I received a warning and had a mini heart attack… Opened it and started trying to figure it out to find it was a test!”
Tim Lennox of Quincy, Massachusetts commented, “So was this an accident or should I go buy a boat within the next twenty minutes?”
By 9 a.m., the National Weather Service branches in Virginia and North Carolina issued a statement advising that there was no Tsunami and the alert was a false alarm.
“THERE IS NO TSUNAMI WARNING,” the statement advised. “
A Tsunami Test was conducted earlier this morning, that did have TEST in the message. We are currently trying to find out how a message went out as a warning. We will update you when we find out more.”
By 9:30 a.m., Accuweather issued a special weather statement advising that there was no Tsunami threat to the East Coast, Gulf or Caribbean.
“There is no Tsunami threat along the East Coast, Gulf Coast or Caribbean,” the statement, received by many in Mecklenburg read. “Some users may have received notifications that a Tsunami Warning is in effect for their area. There are no Tsunami Warnings in effect at the current time.”