False tsunami alert goes out to cell phones in the Coastal Bend

Posted at 4:11 PM, Apr 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-25 17:11:06-04

Some Coastal Bend residents woke up to a scare this morning: a text message alert warning that a tsunami could be headed towards the coast. The alert turned out to be false. 

People who received the alert were more surprised to think about a tsunami barreling towards the Coastal Bend than anything else. However, they are also concerned about this being something like "crying wolf." They worried if a real emergency alert goes out, people might not take it seriously. 

"I’m used to getting weather alert for storms that come through, but I’ve never seen a tsunami," Port Aransas resident Jo Alexander said. 

However, that is exactly what Alexander saw on her cell phone at 7:04 this morning: an alert for a tsunami warning in Nueces County from 8 to 9 a.m. 

"At first I was like really, I didn’t think we had those in the Gulf. And then I immediately thought of Hawaii and the missile warning that came out by mistake," she said.

So was it a mistake? It was three hours before Alexander’s phone pinged again with another alert stating the first warning was only a test. 

"That was a long, a long time to not know for sure!" Alexander said. 

The local National Weather Service office confirms there was no tsunami warning. They say the alert was a test sent by the Tsunami Warning Center in Alaska, and it should have never gone out to cell phones.

The alert did not go out to everyone, only subscribers to weather notifications from a private company. A link attached to the text message specified it was a only a test, but the text itself did not. 

"I think they have to have new protocols for sure, and make sure that they don’t do this again," Alexander said. 

However, this morning’s alert was not the first false alarm of this kind. 

"An orange exclamation point with all caps, says ‘tsunami warning,’" Kathleen De La Garza said, reading an alert on her phone. De La Garza got the false tsunami warning back on February 6th. 

"It can be extremely alarming," she said. 

She worries this trend of errors could have consequences. 

"After Hurricane Harvey, people are taking these alerts more seriously now. And the more errors they receive, then maybe the less likely they will be to prepare in the even of an emergency," De La Garza said. 

The National Weather Service says the February alert was also a routine monthly test sent out by a private company, but they say it was a different company than the one that sent out today’s warning. 

KRIS 6 news has reached out to the Tsunami Warning Center in Alaska to try to find out why these alerts were sent to phones, and why they weren not declared a test.  We are waiting for a response.