SHAWNEE, Kan. — An unwarranted warning was sent out to thousands on a day designed to test emergency alerts. As part of “Severe Weather Awareness Week,” both Missouri and Kansas communities tested tornado sirens Tuesday.
But you probably also got an alert on your cell phone, telling you to take cover immediately. It never used the word “test” or “drill”. That alert, was in fact, never supposed to be sent.
All over Missouri and Kansas, warnings of “imminent extreme danger” and “emergency alert” pinged cell phones. The message was enough to make anyone seeing them a little nervous.
“Tried to figure out what was going on and it was saying you know head for the hills,” said Chae Scharf.
The National Weather Service’s Kansas City office quickly acknowledged the problem. It shared, “We properly coded a test tornado warning. Somewhere above us in the wireless emergency alert chain, it was misinterpreted and disseminated as an actual warning.”
“The alarms went off on the phone and on my watch and I’m thinking, it’s a beautiful day—not a tornado,” said Scharf.
National Weather Service headquarters told FOX4 in a statement:
“A test of our tornado warning system today as part of Severe Weather Awareness Week was not intended to be broadcast as a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA). The new code for our Common Alerting Protocol Handler, implemented last week, mistakenly allowed the test to go out over WEA as an actual warning. The software was fixed immediately.”
“It’s concerning but I’m glad they’re doing it now instead of when we really need it so we’ve got to test everything. It’s the first part of March, kind of have to be expected here,'” Scharf said.
FOX4 also contacted the Federal Emergency Management Agency about Tuesday’s errant messages. It shared the following statement:
“Earlier today the National Weather Service accidently sent a tornado warning message to mobile phones as a Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) through the FEMA Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). An error in NWS systems sent the live tornado warning message text instead of appropriately inserting test message information for display on mobile phones. The NWS is one of more than 1,500 agencies authorized as a public alerting authorities to use the FEMA IPAWS system to send alerts to mobile phones as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) as well as radio and television as Emergency Alert System (EAS) broadcasts. FEMA does not review individual messages sent by authorized public alerting authority users.”