Tsunami warning alert meant as test goes out in error to app users

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The tsunami warning alert was just a test.

A routine National Weather Service test on Tuesday resulted in a false push notification to mobile phones about a tsunami warning, giving jolt to many residents in the New York area, along the East Coast and Gulf Coast.
The National Weather Service is trying to sort what went wrong, but officials issued the following statement:

"There is no tsunami threat. The National Tsunami Warning Center of the National Weather Service issued a routine test message at approximately 8:30 am ET this morning. The test message was released by at least one private sector company as an official Tsunami Warning, resulting in widespread reports of tsunami warnings received via phones and other media across the East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean. We're currently looking into why the test message was communicated as an actual tsunami warning, and will provide more information as soon as we have it."

The alert was sent to users of the Accuweather app.

Smartphone users who received the alert as a notice on their phones may not have realized the alert was false unless they opened it. Once a user clicked into the story, it became apparent this was only a test.


A glitch meant some people received what looked like an actual warning, NWS meteorologist Hendricus Lulofs said. The National Weather Service is trying to sort what went wrong, he said.

AccuWeather blamed the National Weather Service for the false alarm, saying the government weather agency "miscoded" a test message as a real warning.

The word "TEST" appeared in the header of the government agency's message, but State College, Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather said it automatically passes along weather service warnings based on a computer scan of codes, with no human input.

"Tsunami warnings are especially time sensitive given the fact that people may have only minutes to react to a tsunami threat," said Jonathan Porter, AccuWeather's vice president of business services. "As such, we process them with the utmost concern and deliver them promptly and automatically as soon as they're received by the government."

The weather service said earlier Tuesday that it was looking into why the test message was transmitted as a real alert. It did not immediately respond to AccuWeather's assertions about the coding errors.

AccuWeather said its systems worked as intended.

"AccuWeather was correct in reading the mistaken NWS codes embedded in the warning. The responsibility is on the NWS to properly and consistently code the messages, for only they know if the message is correct or not," AccuWeather said in a statement.

AccuWeather had warned the weather service about incorrectly coded emergency messages after a similar problem in 2014.

"We understand the reason for test messages, but we feel that NWS consider failsafe measures for the future to prevent such an occurrence," AccuWeather CEO Barry Myers wrote to the weather service, adding the system is "less than perfect."

Myers, who co-founded AccuWeather, is President Donald Trump's pick to head the government agency that oversees the weather service.

Jeremy DaRos, of Portland, Maine, said the alert made him "jump" because he lives a stone's throw from the water and was aware of recent spate of small earthquakes that made the alert seem plausible.

"Looking out the window and seeing the ocean puts you in a different frame of mind when you get a tsunami warning," he said. He said that after clicking on the push notification for details he realized it was just a test.

This is the latest in a spate of false alarms in the past month.
A Hawaii state employee mistakenly sent an alert warning of a ballistic missile attack on Jan. 13. And, a malfunction triggered sirens at a North Carolina nuclear power plant on Jan. 19.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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