Tsunami Warning Push Alerts Erroneously Sent Along East Coast

The National Weather Service is trying to sort out what happened

A National Weather Service test Tsunami Warning was erroneously sent out Tuesday to most of the eastern seaboard of the U.S., including parts of New England.

Around 8:30 a.m., some residents along the immediate coastline, including some Maine residents, woke up to an alert on their phone that declared they were under a Tsunami Warning.

However, once they unlocked their phones and looked at the details of the "warning," they found it was part of the monthly test issued by the United States National Tsunami Warning Center, and that there was no immediate threat or warning.

The United States Geological Survey's website shows there was no earthquake that could have sparked a Tsunami Warning. In fact, on the U.S. Tsunami Warning site, the last warning was on Jan. 31, when a 4.9-magnitude earthquake was observed about 155 miles southeast of Kodiak City, Alaska.

The National Weather Service said the message was just a test and there is no tsunami.

Meteorologist Hendricus Lulofs said there was a glitch Tuesday during a routine test, which meant users of some mobile apps received what looked like an actual warning.

He said the National Weather Service is trying to sort out what happened.

In a statement, AccuWeather placed the blame for the incident squarely on the National Weather Service's coding.

"AccuWeather has the most sophisicated system for passing on NWS tsunami warnings based on a complete computer scan of the codes used by the NWS," the company said in a statement. "While the words 'TEST' were in the header, the actual codes read by computers used coding for real warning, indicating it was a real warning."

The company also countered that it had told the National Weather Service about this being a potential problem back in October 2014.

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

A spokesperson with Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency said the alert was not picked up by its Wireless Emergency Alert system, but that some news and weather services picked up the test message, posting it to apps and social media while not making it clear that it was a test. The spokesperson added MEMA has received calls from residents asking if there was a Tsunami Warning.

Regional National Weather Service offices also used social media to get the word out that there was no tsunami warning.

The move comes after a Hawaii state employee mistakenly sent a warning of a ballistic missile attack on Jan. 13, which some people who received Tuesday's mobile app push alert said came to mind.

"It brought me back to Hawaii and the test that happened there," Heather Cuzzi, a Scarborough, Maine, resident said. "I think if they're going to do a test, they have to put 'this is a test,' as opposed to just throwing it out there."

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.

On Jan. 19, a malfunction triggered sirens at a North Carolina power plant. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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