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Unnerving COVID-19 emergency alert from Town of Tonawanda sent during 9 a.m. hour on 9/11

Posted at 9:28 AM, Sep 11, 2020

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.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz later added that the emergency alert was a "training error" made by the town's emergency manager.

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."

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."