System malfunction causes incorrect reverse 911 calls in Isle of Wight Co.

Posted at 3:09 PM, Jun 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-06-12 19:56:54-04

Hampton Roads, Va. -  On Wednesday, NewsChannel 3 heard from several viewers who said they received not just one, but multiple reverse 911 calls for a tornado warning in Isle of Wight County.   However, no tornado warning was ever issued for the county from the National Weather Service.

Many residents of Isle of Wight County were concerned, either e-mailing NewsChannel 3 or posting comments to the NewsChannel 3 Facebook page.  In fact, Patricia wrote, "I've had at least 20 calls, one right after the other about a tornado warning in Isle of Wight County.  The last one just came in as I was typing this!  Has anyone alerted the Isle of Wight alert system to fix this problem?  I found out by searching on the Internet that we do not have a tornado warning!  Help!"

So NewsChannel 3 took action to find out why this happened.

"We certainly don’t want this to be a situation where people think we’ve cried wolf, but rather, this is a very serious matter that we believe we’ve corrected.  And so we certainly want them to be alert and to pay attention to future alerts ," said Don Robertson, Public Information Officer for Isle of Wight County.

Officials in Isle of Wight County say it was a system malfunction that led to more than 28,000 phones and other electronic devices to receive false tornado warning alerts Wednesday.

The system, called IW Alert, has been in place there for several years.  Most recently, the county has been working to upgrade that system, which is set to debut in July.  However, on Wednesday, an error in one of the triggers automatically sent out multiple false alerts, when no tornado warning or any other warning or watch was issued for the area at the time.

"While it may have been a little bit of an inconvenience for people, we do know that the system is getting information out to people," said Robertson.

Robertson insists that Wednesday's alerts were not intentional.  He applauds residents for taking them seriously.

"There were a couple of positives.  One is that it reassured us that people were receiving the alerts.  But secondarily and more importantly, we had people who were taking the appropriate actions as a result of the alerts.  Our schools acted quickly. They pulled their buses off of the routes.  They got the kids back in the buildings and safe zones.  In our courthouse complex and other safe zones, people were moving to safe areas internal to those buildings," said Robertson.  "And so while, again, we regret the inconvenience that it may have created for our citizens and those people who signed up for the alerts, we were very pleased that people knew what to do and they took very quick action to get into safe areas."