TOWN OF TONAWANDA, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Town of Tonawanda sent out an unnerving COVID-19 emergency alert that appears to be part of a test program, Friday morning.
People from all over Western New York received this alert shortly after 9 a.m.
The alert says for you to follow COVID-19 guidance from the CDC.
When 7 Eyewitness News called the Town of Tonawanda dispatch, we were transferred to someone who told us it appeared to be part of a "test program "sent out by the emergency coordinator. The alert also led the Town of Tonawanda website to crash due to high traffic.
The @TownofTonawanda sent out a message over their IPAWS Mass Notification System and I guess it worked! Getting calls from all over. The message just relates to COVID and to keep doing what you have been doing. Stay safe!— Joe Emminger (@joeemmingerr) September 11, 2020
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz later added that the emergency alert was a "training error" made by the town's emergency manager.
This morning's emergency alert sent to area phones was not issued by @ErieCountyNY. @ErieCountyESU Commissioner @Danjr104 has confirmed a training error was made by @TownofTonawanda Emergency Manager who attempted to send out a "test" alert but instead sent out an actual alert. pic.twitter.com/TIwptxqe5V— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) September 11, 2020
More than two hours after the alert went out, Town Supervisor Joseph Emminger issued a second statement on Twitter, saying in part, "there were numerous mistakes made in sending out this message . . . We will be addressing this issue as well as review the events."
2. There were numerous mistakes made in sending out this message. First of all, the message should not have been sent out through the emergency 911 system. Second, it was a totally inappropriate day and time to send a message out. The 9 o’clock hour on 9/11 is a sacred time.— Joe Emminger (@joeemmingerr) September 11, 2020
4. The message asked people to go to our website to find out more information. The people did exactly as they were asked to do but due to the volume, our town website crashed. It may be down for most of the day. We will be addressing this issue as well as review the events— Joe Emminger (@joeemmingerr) September 11, 2020
5. Once again, I apologize for the embarrassment that this has caused the Town of Tonawanda and I appreciate your understanding.— Joe Emminger (@joeemmingerr) September 11, 2020
Ara Bagdasarian, Founder of emergency notification company Omnilert says the wording by which things were used can show a misuse of the system.
"It must be actionable it must be something that averts pending harm," Bagdasarian said.
Bagdasarian also said that the system they used to send out this alert is not one you can opt out of, so accidental alerts like this should never happen.
"The capability to communicate with hundreds of thousands of people is an incredibly powerful tool."