False tornado warning sent by MU mass notification system

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 | 5:35 p.m. CST; updated 6:16 p.m. CST, Tuesday, March 5, 2013

COLUMBIA — MU sent out messages around 1:30 p.m. Tuesday that erroneously said there was a tornado warning in Boone County.

The university's mass notification system failed to recognize that the National Weather Service warning was a test, said Jim Kramper, warning coordination meteorologist with the service in St. Louis.


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MU spokesman Christian Basi said the university was unaware that the National Weather Service would activate its system during the statewide drill scheduled for Tuesday.

The university has a contract with a mass notification system that automatically sends out tornado alerts, Basi said.

Once the National Weather Service activates its system for Boone County and the message is detected, phone, text and email messages are sent to all subscribers of the system.

"If we had known, we would have deleted our message and recorded one to say that it was only a test," Basi said.

An email sent out by the notification system stated the tornado warning was a test because it picked up the entire warning that the National Weather Service sent out, Basi said. The text and phone messages did not clarify because they were pre-recorded. 

The National Weather Service sent out the same test warning last year, Kramper said.

"We filed the same procedures we always do when issuing a test warning," Kramper said. "A test has very similar code to a warning, but has a special line that indicates it is a test. These automated systems are not geared for these tests."

The weather service received calls about other automated systems in the state that also didn't distinguish it was a test, Kramper said.  

The mass notification system has not changed from last year, said Division of Information Technology Director Terry Robb. He said he's unsure why the test triggered the system this year.

"I'm going to follow up with our mass notification vendor and make sure the weather service did not mistakenly send us the wrong code," Robb said. "This did not set off our system last year. So we had no reason to think it would this year." 

Notifications are automatically sent to all faculty, staff and student email. Personal phone numbers and emails that are registered also received the message. 

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robert link March 6, 2013 | 1:20 a.m.

Notification shortcomings

13:32 overhead alert in hospital
13:32 received email alert
13:42 received phone call to my cell with alert
14:02 received phone call to my desk with alert NOTE this came AFTER ALL CLEAR announced in overhead message in hospital, a full 30 minutes had passed when this phone call was received.

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders March 6, 2013 | 8:01 a.m.

Wait... MU's warning system SHOULD be triggered by an alert, so that they can tell people it is a test. Otherwise people relying on it have no idea if the siren they hear is a test or real. Other than to calm people, is there a reason NOT to inform them it's a test?

The dumbest part though is the fact that they did it at 1:30 on a Tuesday when most everyone knows tests are done at noon on the first wednesday of the month.

I knew of the test in advance. What I didn't know was that they'd be stupid enough to blow the sirens at this strange time. I assumed someone would just walk through the building telling us there was a tornado drill.

(Report Comment)

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