It was the rude awakening that united Los Angeles County.
Around 9 a.m. Saturday, a vast number of mobile phones sounded with an alert for an unknown emergency in the city of Glendale. Details were lacking on the type of emergency that would prompt officials to instruct people to flee their homes and report to an evacuation center. About 30 minutes later, a second emergency alert arrived instructing users to disregard the first because it was only an “evacuation exercise.”
The time between the two messages left many Angelenos scrambling for answers. Even after the city clarified the mistake, people fumed over social media about the involuntary wakeup call.
On Monday, the city of Glendale apologized. In a statement, they blamed a computer program for the error.
City officials said they investigated the issue and are taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“Although the messaging error on Saturday has largely overshadowed the intent of the exercise, we cannot allow this error to take away from the importance and need for these types of drills,” Glendale Fire Chief and Deputy City Manager Silvio Lanzas said in a statement. “Planning and preparing for an emergency ahead of time is key to the safety of our residents and community and allows us to be better prepared.”
“On behalf of the City of Glendale, I offer my sincerest apology to anyone who was negatively affected by Saturday’s errant message,” Lanzas said.
The alert was similar to the blaring emergency messages sent out by officials for Amber Alerts or the curfew alerts sent out during civil unrest across Los Angeles in 2020. Lanzas pointed out that the alerts allow the city to get evacuation orders to residents quickly and referenced the recent Laguna Niguel fire that burned “faster, hotter and with more intensity than ever before.”
But Saturday’s alert arrived without any context. The message said: “Chevy Chase canyon residents safely evacuate your home and proceed to the evacuation site located at the Glendale Community College Parking Lot B.”
The second alert arrived about 30 minutes later and read, “Disregard evacuation message for Chevy Chase canyon. Training exercise only.”
Confusion rang out while the city of Glendale pieced together a response and attempted to clarify the issue over social media.
It left Angelenos staggering into their Saturday morning with two emergency messages and few answers.
“Alarming to be woken to this alarm scrambling to check on family (and) community. And then later find out that it was not real,” disability rights activist Héctor Manuel Ramírez wrote on Twitter. “This lack of planning (and) consideration when sending your message can contribute to folks not taking such life-threatening emergencies seriously.”
The alert reminded journalist Juliet Bennett Rylah of the time the city imposed curfews during the June 2020 civil unrest and Metro expanded a systemwide shutdown of rail and bus lines.
“What I love about seemingly everyone across LA getting an alert on their phones that did NOT indicate it was test is that it reminds me of how LA was like, ‘oh, btw, there’s a curfew in like an hour’ during the pandemic, while simultaneously shutting down Metro,” Rylah wrote on Twitter.
The city of Pasadena’s official Twitter account wrote, “If you received this text alert, be advised this was only A DRILL. No action required.”
“Omg it’s a *drill*?? Like we live several miles away and were worried for our Glendale-based friends,” transit advocate Luke Klipp wrote on Twitter. “Why did this massive alert that just went out not say this is a drill?”
Klipp said the Glendale snafu reminded him of the infamous January 2018 alert that was sent out warning the state of Hawaii of an incoming missile strike. That message was broadcast to phones, TVs and radios. A confused emergency official, who later resigned, thought the state was under attack and sent out the alert during an unplanned drill.
“I was in Hawaii celebrating my birthday when we got the alert about a missile strike,” Klipp told The Times. He couldn’t help but notice the similarity to the Glendale alert.
The city of Glendale did not say how many people received the message and whether this was the first time the city had inadvertently sent a countywide message by mistake.