‘Code Red’ tornado alert sent out in error Sunday now resolved

News

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — An issue identified Sunday when a tornado warning alert sent out through Code Red by Round Rock Emergency Management has been corrected, according to representatives with the Capital Area Council of Governments, or CAPCOG.

The alert was mistakenly sent to all 500,000 subscribers to the system across Central Texas.

According to CAPCOG, which owns and operates the system known as Code Red, Round Rock officials did their job well when creating the message meant to be sent to all residents of the city warning them about the severe weather. The emergency management user’s profile reportedly sent the message to all users living in the 10-county region, rather than everyone within city limits.

CAPCOG said the user’s profile had that capability, but should not have. The user’s incorrectly configured settings enabled that user to issue the system-wide call, as opposed to the citywide call.

On Monday, officials with CAPCOG said they corrected the issue and looked at all of the user’s profiles to make sure they did not have capabilities they should not have. Representatives told KXAN it was unfortunate, but it happened.

“I was totally freaked out. I mean, when something says ‘Code Red,’ that means like now, you need to [act] now,” said Georganna Sekula, a Kyle resident.

Sekula said she realized something was wrong when she tuned into KXAN News to see if there were any alerts and there weren’t any to be found.

“That’s just way too many people for a mistake like that to happen, that really is,” said Sekula. “They should have sent it only to Round Rock people. They’re the ones that should have known immediately. Not hours later, but immediately so they could take action, because we all know what mother nature can do to you.”

Example of a text messaged weather alert (KXAN Photo)

KXAN received numerous reports from viewers in Austin and Buda who also received the alert by mistake. In some cases, the alerts were not received until hours after the warning was actually in effect.

Officials with the city of Round Rock said that delay was due to the overload of calls that were generated by the region-wide alert.

The program is used differently depending on which city is operating the system.

“We need to communicate specific targeted information to a specific targeted part of the community versus a blanketed communication that goes to the entire region or city,” explained Jacob Dirr, the public information officer for the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management for the city of Austin. “We can communicate to people via text, via an email, or by a phone call.”

Dirr told KXAN every jurisdiction utilizes the program at their own discretion.

In fact, the city of Austin has deliberately chosen not to use Code Red for severe weather warnings.

“The city of Austin utilizes the system anytime we need to communicate immediate protective actions that the public needs to take. Now, this could be a law enforcement action, for example, if there’s a SWAT call out. Some of our law enforcement partners in the city might utilize it. The Austin Fire Department might utilize it if they need to evacuate an area due to a hazardous material spill, something like that,” said Dirr. “We don’t utilize it for general severe weather warnings, watches, something like that. That’s something that’s already done by the National Weather Service.”

However, Dirr says the system is only as effective as the number of people who sign up for it.

The city encourages area residents to sign up for Code Red alerts by visiting WarnCentralTexas.org.

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