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How would California handle a statewide false emergency alert?




A screen shot take by Hawaiian citizen Alison Teal shows the screen of her mobile phone with an alert text message sent out in Hawaii on Jan. 13, 2018.
A screen shot take by Hawaiian citizen Alison Teal shows the screen of her mobile phone with an alert text message sent out in Hawaii on Jan. 13, 2018.
Alison Teal/AFP/Getty Images

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On Saturday, emergency alerts were sent out statewide in Hawaii to people's phones, causing widespread panic. While many agencies tried to get the word out that the alert was false, it took 38 minutes for Hawaii's Emergency management Agency to send a second alert confirming there was no threat.

The repercussions of this huge mistake are still being felt, so how does California's alert system differ? How would the Golden State fare in such a situation?

California operates differently

The director of the Governor's Office of Emergency services, Mark Ghilarducci, spoke with Take Two about the Wireless Emergency Alert Systems in place. He emphasized that in California, one person doesn't have the sole power to push out these alerts. 

"There's always a supervisor that's monitoring what's happening. We work very closely with our local governments in putting out these kinds of warnings or alerts as well as federal government. So, there would never be in our protocols and the way we operate any unilateral action to push out a message such as that."

Initially, the head of Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency said, "the wrong button was pressed," and that was what led the message to be sent out to the masses. Ghilarducci assures that would not be possible with the way things are done in California.

"As information comes out, what'll happen for an event like this, information will flow from the federal government to us, in a collaborative set of protocol-driven actions. We would then push out appropriate messaging and we would do that in coordination with our local governments. It'd be highly unlikely that you're going to be getting something just coming out of the blue like that."

But, what if something like this did somehow manage to happen here? Here's how Ghilarducci said it would be handled:

"Well, we've had false alarms in the past of a different kind. An alert that maybe we got information to evacuate a particular area, then we've changed that based upon the conditions that are presented. ... As fast we can put out an alert through these protocol-driven actions, we just as fast can put out the ability to do a change, and there should be really no gap."

Ghildarducci also spoke about the new assistance being offered to those in Ventura, San Diego, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles affected by the Thomas Fire and mudslides/debris flow. For more information on how to apply for help, click here.