Emergency alert error tells LA residents to evacuate

·3-min read
Emergency alert error tells LA residents to evacuate

An emergency alert telling residents to evacuate was broadcast in error on televisions in Los Angeles and the surrounding area.

“Emergency Alert System. A civil authority has issued an IMMEDIATE EVACUATION NOTICE for the following counties or areas,” the message said, listing Eastern North Pacific Ocean, Port Conception to Guadalupe Island, and Los Angeles.

The Ventura Country Sheriff’s Office tweeted about the mistake on Wednesday night, writing: “The evacuation notice that was received by some Ventura County Residents on television was sent in error by the County of Los Angeles. There is no threat to Ventura County at this time and no need for residents to evacuate.”

On Twitter, many viewers remarked about the error and asked if others had seen the same thing.

“Did anyone else just see this on their cable [TV]?” Charles Johnson asked his followers on Twitter.

“An ‘immediate evacuation notice’ for the entire city of Los Angeles??? And the ‘Eastern North Pacific Ocean?’ Somebody f***ed up somewhere,” he added.

“It’s gone back to the normal garbage now,” he said, before adding, “OK, I’ve packed everything valuable into the car and I’m hitting the highway before the traffic jams start. Wish me luck”.

He later said, “OK, I’m almost to Riverside, but I think I may have jumped the gun and I’m turning around and heading back home. Thanks, Emergency Alert System”.

The mistaken alert came as wildfires took hold in the state on Wednesday, leading to evacuations. The heatwave affecting the city is expected to last through Labor Day weekend.

Large parts of Southern California, such as Los Angeles County, are under excessive heat warnings.

It remains unclear how many people received the evacuation notice but many shared their concerns over the warning on social media.

“Can someone ... either confirm that there *is* a huge evacuation notice (and why!), or let everyone know if the message was supposed to just be for the area near Castaic where there are fires?” one Twitter user asked. “Lots of people freaking out over this vague yet alarming TV alert.”

In a statement to The Independent, the LA County Office of Emergency Management said that the message was “properly formatted” and shouldn’t have led to “an EAS evacuation”.

The county said they didn’t yet have an answer for the “root causes” of the alert.

“The National Weather Service (NWS) Los Angeles/Oxnard transmitted a Non-Weather Emergency Message (NWEM) via National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrator (NOAA) Weather Radio on behalf of the County of Los Angeles per the request of Los Angeles County Fire officials to support Evacuation notifications related to the Route Fire, a brush fire in the Castaic area,” the Office of Emergency Management said, adding that the message was “properly formatted for dissemination via Weather radio”.

The alert was “correctly configured and should not have triggered” the emergency message.

“We cannot comment on broadcaster configuration of EAS receivers and welcome further engagement with local broadcasters and Los Angeles County FCC Local Emergency Communications Committee to find root causes of this incident,” the agency added.

This isn’t even the first time a false evacuation alert was issued. On 13 January 2018, an alert was mistakenly sent out to people in Hawaii telling them to take shelter as a ballistic missile was inbound. The alert was issued on TV, radio, and to cellphones, prompting panic and dread.

“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill,” the message to people’s phones said.

The following alert stating that the initial message was sent in error wasn’t distributed until 40 minutes later.

The staff member at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency who issued the message was fired, telling CBS affiliate KGMB that he didn’t hear the loudspeaker message stating that the situation had been an exercise.

“I was convinced that it was real,” he said. “I was 100 per cent sure that it was real.”