MINNEAPOLIS — The Ramsey County Emergency Communications Center has added training and changed procedures after an emergency alert inadvertently went to a much wider audience than intended last fall.
Jonathan Rasch, the emergency communications manager for the county, said he's confident a repeat of Oct. 25, 2022, won't happen again. That day, Roseville Police asked the county to send a "shelter-in-place" alert about a homicide suspect to a one-mile area just south of Rosedale Center. The Wireless Emergency Alert, distributed through FEMA, reached neighbors around 10:50 a.m.
But they weren't the only ones who got the message.
By accident, the alert went to everyone in Ramsey County and even spilled into neighboring counties through cell phone towers, leading to lockdowns of schools and daycares in the metro area.
"Immediately after, we started looking into why that might have happened," Rasch said in an interview this summer with KARE 11. "We knew the community was going to be asking for an explanation, [saying], 'I wasn't anywhere near that. Why did my phone go off?'"
According to the county's review of the incident, an emergency supervisor correctly utilized the county's software vendor known as Everbridge to send the alert, "tracing the indicated area from Roseville PD." However, the software appears to have rejected the shape because it was made with "too many points," as Rasch explained. The rejection of the shape reverted the emergency alert area to the entire boundary of Ramsey County.
As the review indicates, Emergency Communications Center staff have since been instructed to "cease using the free-form tool or circle tool to create shapes on the map."
"We've worked with the vendor, to make sure we identify steps moving forward on how those software corrections might be implemented. We identified workarounds immediately and gave supervisors instructions on a clear set of steps and a route to follow," Rasch said. "We have three or four different ways of drawing shapes on the map so we're just not going to use the one that caused the error."
John Dooley, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System program manager with the state said he helped train 24 Ramsey County staff members after the October 2022 incident. Those sessions took three-and-a-half hours.
"We really got down to what really happens with the software," Dooley said.
Dooley also said that 29 counties in Minnesota work with Everbridge, the software vendor at the center of the Ramsey County situation. Just this spring, Everbridge found itself in the news again in Florida, when an accidental alert went to millions of people across the state at 4:45 a.m. In that case, Everbridge apologized for what it called "human error."
Both Dooley and Rasch said they've had productive conversations with Everbridge.
"I'm not familiar with the details of what happened with the other states. But I know when we reached out to them, they were very receptive," Rasch said. "I personally don't have any concerns. For us, they've been a good partner to work with."
In a statement, Everbridge said: "We are proud of our longstanding partnership with Ramsey County and continue to work closely with their outstanding Emergency Communications team on applying industry best practices and ongoing training for public alerting and resident safety."
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