Verizon Emergency Alert Causes Panic In New Jersey
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December 12, 2011
An unannounced test of a soon to be mandatory emergency alert system caused panic in New Jersey today after Verizon customers received text messages warning them that a â€œcivil emergencyâ€ was in progress and to â€œtake shelter,â€ prompting alarmed citizens to flood 911 lines with anxious calls.
However, media reports concerning the alarm completely ignore the fact that Verizon was almost certainly running a test for the federal governmentâ€™s soon to be mandatory PLAN alert program, which the company has signed up for.
â€œA mass text message warning New Jersey cell phone users of a â€œcivil emergencyâ€ was sent out by Verizon Wireless earlier today,â€ reports the New Jersey Star-Ledger. Verizon Wireless later apologized to its customers for causing alarm.
The alert message included the text â€œU.S. Govern,â€ suggesting to customers the text had come from the federal government itself, which undoubtedly fueled the panic.
Residents in three different counties received the message, titled â€œEmergency alert seek shelter by 1:24 p.m,â€ which was not labeled as a test. Police departments and country authorities fielded four times the usual number of calls, many of them from distressed citizens who wanted to know whether a real emergency was in progress. â€œThere is no reason to panic here,â€ said Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden. â€œIt is a false text done maliciously today at 12:27 p.m.â€
The Department of Homeland Security was also forced to put out a tweet confirming that there was no emergency after concerned citizens also turned to Twitter for advice, saying they were, â€œscared and didnâ€™t know how to react.â€
Verizon company spokesman David Samberg told the Star-Ledger that the message was part of a â€œtest emergency notification,â€ apologizing â€œfor any inconvenience or concern this message may have caused.â€ The messages were received by Verizon customers with, â€œDroid-operated phones in Monmouth and Ocean counties and other parts of central New Jersey.â€
Though completely absent from reports concerning the scare, the unannounced test was almost certainly conducted in preparation for FEMAâ€™s PLAN program (Personal Localized Alerting Network), which will broadcast emergency alert messages directly to Americansâ€™ cell phones using a new chip embedded in the receiver. The system is scheduled to be operational across the country by the end of next year.
Verizon are one of the â€˜big fourâ€™ wireless carriers that have agreed to sign up for the program, which will use a â€œspecial chipâ€ embedded in all newly produced cellphones to send emergency alerts directly from the federal government. Customers will not be able to opt out of messages labeled â€˜presidential alertsâ€™, meaning they will be forced to read what some construe as government propaganda.
The PLAN program is part of the wider move on behalf of Homeland Security to create a public environment dominated by a pervasive sense of fear and paranoia, a context in which the safe exercise of constitutional freedoms doesnâ€™t normally thrive.
For the first time ever the feds will have a direct line to the millions of Americans who use cell phones and be able to use the messages to transmit whatever they like, whether that be genuine safety information, fear-mongering about spurious terror alerts, or political propaganda.
Judging by todayâ€™s response, the overwhelming majority of Americans will simply react by panicking, which in a real emergency situation could only make the crisis worse.