Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Emergency Text Alert Causes Confusion In Marion County

Chief Jim Ferraris
Woodburn Police -
This text message alert from the Oregon Office of Emergency Management caused widespread confusion in the Marion County area on Tuesday.

A text message alert that caused widespread confusion in the Marion County area on Tuesday marked the first time Oregon emergency planners had tried to use the warning system.

The message that blared onto people’s phone screens was brief. And vague.

“Civil emergency in this area,” it said in part. “Prepare for action.”

A half hour later, the Oregon Office of Emergency Management sent a clearer statement. Toxins had been detected in the city of Salem’s drinking water.

But in the half hour in between? Confusion. Emergency dispatchers were inundated with calls from bewildered citizens.

The alert marked the first time state emergency officials have tried to use a federal Wireless Emergency Alert system.

But due to user error, the agency sent out an unhelpful default message. Officials believe they’ve figured out the problem. But importantly, they can’t prove it.

The state’s not able to test the alerts system. That means Oregonians might have to wait until the next emergency to be sure.

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.