Florida apologizes after 4:45 a.m. emergency alert test

Florida apologizes after 4:45 a.m. emergency alert test

Florida apologizes after 4:45 a.m. emergency alert test

Many Florida residents woke up to a shrill alarm around 4:45 a.m. Thursday after an early morning test of the emergency alert system sounded on their cellphones.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management, which coordinates and manages warning systems for emergencies such as hurricanes and other disasters, apologized for the notifications in a statement.

“The division understands that the unexpected wake-up calls at 4:45 a.m. are frustrating and would like to apologize for the morning text,” Alecia Collins, a spokeswoman for the agency, said in an email.

“Each month we test emergency alerts on a variety of platforms, including radio, television and SMS alerts,” she said. “This particular alert was supposed to be broadcast on TV and not disturb anyone who was already sleeping.”

The alerts jolted some Floridians out of bed Thursday, and in homes with multiple cellphones, the sounds created a cacophony early in the morning.

On social media, Floridians complained about the alert and shared screenshots of their phone screens with the notification, which read, “This is an Emergency Alert System TEST. No action required.”

St. Lucie County officials in southeast Florida said on Twitter that the alert was sent to “every wireless subscriber” in the state. There were more than 22.8 million wireless subscribers in Florida in 2021, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Thursday morning’s test was supposed to be for television alerts, which are usually broadcast early in the morning when the fewest people are watching to minimize disruption, Ms Collins said.

She said the emergency management agency was “taking appropriate action to remove the company responsible for submitting the alert this morning”.

Ms Collins said a software company the state had a contract with, Everbridge, sent the wrong technical specifications for the alert. Everbridge did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

Governor Ron DeSantis said on Twitter that he had ordered the agency “to bring prompt responsibility for the testing of the emergency alert system in the wee hours of the morning”.

“It was a totally inappropriate use of this system,” he added.

The blaring alarms have prompted some on social media to explain how to stop receiving these notifications, but Florida’s Emergency Management Division has urged people not to turn them off, saying these alerts are important for public safety.

The National Weather Service office in Tampa Bay also acknowledged the alerts were “annoying,” but said on Twitter that it “strongly” discouraged people from turning off alerts, as it could cause them to miss weather warnings “which could mean the difference between life and death”.

For more than a decade, the United States has sent emergency alerts to cellphones, while countries like Britain are just beginning to adopt the technology.

The first national test of the new UK system is due on Sunday and there has been an extensive national campaign to ensure people are prepared for the test and future alerts, which could be sent in the event of severe weather, including the floods and fires.

The mistake in Florida was not the first time an emergency alert test for cellphones went wrong.

In January 2018, Hawaiians received a false warning alert of an incoming ballistic missile and it took the state about 38 minutes to send out an alert that the first one was in error. The false alert was sent by a worker with a long history of poor performance who believed the state faced a real threat, FCC and Hawaii officials said.


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