A test tsunami warning meant only for government agencies reached the general public Tuesday morning, sowing confusion for a some residents who briefly feared that a catastrophic weather event was headed straight for New England, officials said.
The problem started when some media outlets and weather services viewed the test message and posted it on their social media pages, according to a statement from Christopher Besse, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.
“It appears that at about 8:30 this morning, the National Weather Service sent a test message over the Emergency Alert System that was intended only to go to state warning points and certain other government agencies,” Besse wrote. “This was a test Tsunami Warning. This warning did not go to the public via the Wireless Emergency Alert system. But, some news and weather services picked up the test message and posted it on their apps and via social media. The message that was posted to apps and social media, in some cases, did not make it sufficiently clear that this was a test. MEMA has received several calls from the public asking if there is a Tsunami Warning.”
Besse added that the National Weather Service “and local news channels are actively tweeting and posting on social media that this was a test message. We have already shared this on our social media platforms.”
The weather service tweeted around 9 a.m. that it has “been receiving reports [of] an erroneous tsunami alert across New England. Please note there is NO TSUNAMI THREAT FOR New England.”
Meteorologist Hendricus Lulofs echoed the MEMA statement, saying there was a glitch Tuesday during a routine test. That meant users of some mobile apps received what looked like an actual warning.
The weather service’s New York branch provided more details about the actual message.
“A Tsunami Test was conducted earlier this morning, that did have TEST in the message,” the New York location tweeted. “We are currently trying to find out how a message went out as a warning. We will update you when we find out more.”
Meanwhile, the weather service’s National Tsunami Warning Center, which issues tsunami information for the continental US and Canada, said it wasn’t to blame for the mishap.
“The National Tsunami Warning Center did NOT issue a tsunami Warning, Watch, or Advisory for any part of the United States or Canada this morning,” the center tweeted.
Kurt Schwartz, director of MEMA, said in a phone interview that while the state had no role in disseminating the test message, his agency took immediate action once the confusion became apparent.
The state agency informed the public via social media that the alert was only a test, e-mailed a message to that effect to its large distribution list, and reached out to the weather service in an effort to determine what happened, Schwartz said.
He said his agency is also in touch with FEMA and officials from the other New England states.
Only a handful of Massachusetts residents contacted MEMA with concerns after the initial test alert went out, Schwartz said.
“My message to the public is, have confidence in the [alert] system,” he said. “And most importantly, if an emergency alert is issued and received, the public should absolutely take it seriously unless they are told otherwise.”
We have been receiving reports that an erroneous tsunami alert across New England. Please note there is NO TSUNAMI THREAT FOR New England.— NWS Boston (@NWSBoston) February 6, 2018
The false tsunami warning comes just weeks after a Hawaii emergency management agency sent an alarm warning the state of an incoming ballistic missile. That warning was also intended to be a test message but was mistakenly sent as a real alert, setting off a panic.Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.