An alert of an “active shooter” roaming the University of Illinois sent residents into a panic Thursday. Police accidentally sent the alert to 87,000 emails and cell phones when an officer clicked “SUBMIT” rather than “SEND.”
The message was intended to act as an emergency template, and there was no real threat. The alert read in full: “Active shooter at BUILDING NAME/INTERSECTION. Escape area if safe to do so or shield/secure your location.”
Although police apologized for the mistake, it points to one of the risks of alert systems capable of reaching tens of thousands of people with one click.
As Slashdot pointed out
, the alert resembled the “Attack By Mars” speech made by Orson Wells in 1932 that sent radio listeners across the country into a panic. For those unfamiliar, he was actually reading “War of the Worlds” over the radio, and some listeners mistook
the reading as an actual news broadcast.
The error is unlikely to change much in terms of emergency broadcast standards, yet it does point to the risks in the emergency system. Still, all things considered, such incidents don’t happen very often.
Photo Credit: Drawing by Henrique Alvim Corréa for the novel ”The War of the Worlds”, showing a Martian fighting-machine battling with the warship.