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Tonight’s Civil Emergency Alert Explained

Cellphone stressed woman

A warning tone sounded on many cell phones across eastern Iowa Monday night, mine included. Here’s what it all meant.

Shortly after getting home Monday night, at 7:16, my cell phone sounded an alarm. I immediately thought, ‘Amber Alert.’ However, here’s what it actually said:

Civil Emergency in this area until 8:45 PM EDT

Take Shelter Now Polk-County”

What?! Civil emergency? What does that even mean? I immediately thought, ‘this has to be an error.’ Polk County is Des Moines, after all. Still, I was concerned enough to google civil emergency. Here’s what Wikipedia calls it:

Civil Emergency Message is a warning created by the National Weather Service meant to warn of an in-progress or imminent significant threat(s) to public safety and/or property… The CEM could be used to describe an alert issued by the National Terrorism Advisory System.”

Terrorism? I’m not going to lie and say my mind didn’t immediately think of something like that. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. It was all just an error. Another big error. I’ll explain the ‘another’ part in just a moment.

Johnson County Emergency Management has since sent out a press release, clearing up the confusion. Here’s some of what the release said:

…  this was an incorrect message. The message was supposed to be a follow up on a missing person out of
Johnson County Iowa. The third party vendor that is used throughout Iowa had been attempting to send this updated
Wireless Emergency Alert Message and is investigating how and why the erroneous message
went out. Earlier today other successful and correct Emergency Alert messages had been
sent for missing persons in Johnson and Chickasaw Counties.
The vendor is investigating the details of the error and is sorry for any confusion it caused.”

The press release also stated that the message was received by some people in Johnson, Iowa, and Polk counties. Unfortunately, it wasn’t just limited to those three counties. I’m in Linn County and I know it was received in Washington county as well. I’m guessing in many other counties too. It’s concerning because this is the second time this has happened, though the message was different this time.

Back in November of 2016, also on a Monday, an alert was sent out erroneously. That time, some people complained of receiving the message a multitude of times. It was blamed on an automated system. Today they don’t know how it happened. I just hope this is the last time it does.

[via Johnson County Emergency Management and Wikipedia]

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