STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Cryptic Emergency Alert Panics Salem Area Residents

A generic message sent out to warn residents of toxins in the water supply left far too much to the imagination.

Posted: May 30, 2018 4:27 PM

By TOM JAMES , Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's emergency alert systems blasted a cryptic alert to cellphones around the capital city, panicking residents by telling them simply "Civil Emergency" and "Prepare for Action" and leaving off that the threat was toxic algae at a local water supply.

Officials wanted to warn Salem-area residents Tuesday night that elevated levels of a natural toxin caused by the algae bloom had made area tap water unsafe for children and people with compromised immune systems. But that information got cut off, and a more ominous-sounding default message went out in its place, said Andrew Phelps, head of the state emergency management agency.

Officials sent a second message 31 minutes later with more information and a link to a municipal website.

Within hours of the first alert, residents stripped the aisles at one supermarket in the city's downtown center of bottled water, and a shopping cart lay tipped on its side in front of the empty shelves. Workers brought out a pallet of sparkling water, which they placed at the front of the store, and told customers they hoped they'd get more regular water in the morning.

The incident marked a high-profile glitch in authorities' use of emergency alert systems, following a false alarm sent out by Hawaii officials in January warning of an incoming ballistic missile.

In Oregon, confusion surrounded the initial alert even within the emergency management agency, with an official telling reporters the message had caught them unaware and state police asking residents via a Facebook post not to call 911 about the alert.

And when officials directed residents to the city of Salem's municipal website for more information, the site briefly crashed under the load.

"The integrated public alert warning system inadvertently defaulted to a generic message," Phelps said in a video posted on social media by the Office of Emergency Management. "I apologize for the confusion and the anxiety this incomplete message has caused."

Phelps said the message had also been broadcast via local television stations.

Cole Mahaffey, a Salem resident, set down a case of bottled water Wednesday he was carrying down the sidewalk and described the uneasy feeling of seeing the first alert arrive on his phone, with an ominous warning but no other information.

"It almost made me not want to go outside," Mahaffey said, adding that the alert caught him at the gym, and that he had interrupted his exercise routine to ask staff at the front desk if they knew what it was about. "I didn't know if there was something going on in the area, or if there was a shooter, you just had no way of knowing."

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 10395

Reported Deaths: 215
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Multnomah252969
Marion166148
Washington162020
Clackamas86125
Umatilla7726
Union3561
Lincoln3464
Lane2283
Deschutes2210
Malheur2161
Polk16012
Linn1579
Jackson1520
Yamhill1398
Jefferson1340
Klamath1301
Morrow1071
Benton955
Hood River940
Wasco941
Josephine561
Clatsop540
Douglas510
Columbia420
Coos420
Lake210
Tillamook150
Crook130
Wallowa100
Curry80
Baker50
Sherman30
Gilliam10
Grant10
Harney10
Unassigned00
Wheeler00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 271035

Reported Deaths: 6441
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles1165703534
Riverside20555486
Orange17882366
San Diego16726387
San Bernardino15345269
Imperial7190117
Alameda6855140
Fresno611077
Santa Clara5408164
Kern536982
Tulare5009136
San Joaquin447455
Sacramento423669
San Francisco399250
Contra Costa387885
Ventura378950
San Mateo3599108
Santa Barbara326129
Marin280921
Kings267333
Stanislaus266045
Monterey215115
Solano147625
Sonoma135911
Merced127211
Placer91111
San Luis Obispo7652
Yolo67726
Madera5785
Santa Cruz4593
Napa4364
San Benito2732
Sutter2523
Lassen2420
El Dorado2260
Butte2063
Shasta1544
Humboldt1444
Nevada1291
Yuba1282
Glenn1220
Lake961
Tehama881
Mendocino850
Colusa700
Del Norte581
Calaveras530
Mono471
Tuolumne430
Amador330
Inyo331
Siskiyou320
Mariposa311
Plumas110
Alpine20
Trinity20
Sierra10
Unassigned00
Medford
Scattered Clouds
76° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 76°
Brookings
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 70° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 69°
Crater Lake
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 71° Lo: 43°
Feels Like: 70°
Grants Pass
Scattered Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 73°
Klamath Falls
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 75° Lo: 40°
Feels Like: 70°
Warming up the rest of the week
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events