US probes false tsunami alerts sent to mobile phones

A man's phone keeps his attention as a storm brings large waves to the coastline in Carlsbad, California in May 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - US officials were investigating how incorrect alerts were broadcast to mobile phones on Tuesday (Feb 6) warning residents of coastal cities from New York to New Orleans of possible tsunami waves.

The false alerts, intended to be a test message, appeared to have been sent by the private forecasting company AccuWeather, according to images of the alerts posted on social media by people who said they had received them.

The US National Weather Service and the Federal Communications Commission said they were investigating the false alarm.

The National Weather Service said its National Tsunami Warning Center had issued a routine test message earlier in the day that someone had misconstrued.

"The test message was released by at least one private sector company as an official Tsunami Warning, resulting in widespread reports of tsunami warnings received via phones and other media across the East Coast, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean," the service said in a statement.

AccuWeather also sought to clear up the confusion. "The National Weather Service Tsunami Warning this morning was a TEST," AccuWeather wrote on its Twitter account.

It was not clear how the error was made or how many people saw the false alerts. Officials with the company did not respond to requests for comment.

The alerts came after the state of Hawaii mistakenly warned residents of the islands of an inbound missile last month, sparking panic. The message was later blamed on an employee's error.

Last week, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said the employee that sent the alert had been fired, and the top two civilian officials resigned in a shakeup stemming from the scare.

Investigations by the FCC and Hawaii found the system for activating a missile alert and conducting emergency drills was flawed, lacking sufficient clarity, fail-safe controls or even a pre-programmed way of issuing a false alarm notice to the public.

Last month, residents of the West Coast were warned to brace for possible tsunami after an earthquake off the coast of Alaska. The warnings were later lifted and no significant damage was reported.

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