VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Officials are reviewing policies after a 911 operator sent an emergency alert to nearly 100,000 residents in the middle of the night.
Many WAVY viewers took to social media after receiving a phone call around 2:15 a.m. Thursday. The reverse 911 call stated Sandbridge Road had reopened after a deadly crash in the 500 block of the road Wednesday night.
Athena Plummer, Director of Emergency Communications and Citizen Services, told WAVY.com the message was only supposed to go to 175 residents living in the Sandbridge area. A 911 operator sent the message to 99,850 residents instead.
“It was inadvertently sent to all users,” Plummer said. “It should have been sent to a mapped group in the Sandbridge Road area consisting of 175 homes. It was a mistake. We are reviewing policy and training and identifying any other gaps to keep this from occurring again in the future.”
Bob Black is the Sr. Operations Supervisor at the center and showed WAVY.com how operators pinpoint and isolate who receives a reverse 911 call. WAVY.com looked at the system, and before an operator hits the “send” button, the system asks the operator if he or she wants to send the message to all users.
Black said he assumes the operator on Thursday morning must have selected the function to send to all users. But the 911 system includes 273,000 phone numbers, and only one-third of them were called.
As complaints came into the dispatch center, operators realized the widespread mistake and canceled the alert.
“We are going to review our policy, the way the system is set up, making sure our users who are authorized to use the system are using the system correctly,” Plummer said. “We are going to review when we use the system, and how the system goes out to our users.”
WAVY.com questioned Plummer about the necessity of sending the message out at 2 a.m. She said they felt a need to send it because they sent a notice about the road being closed earlier in the evening. But 10 On Your Side pointed out that there was no danger involved with the road being closed, even for people on Sandbridge Road. We asked if the reverse 911 calls should have been sent out at all.
“That’s what we need to review,” she said. “Is there a different way to handle this? Such as allowing the media say, when the news is on at 5 a.m., that Sandbridge Road is now reopened.”
WAVY.com talked with Terri Giles at Taylor’s Do It Center. She got the call, but didn’t think she needed to: “I got a call from the police department to let me know that they were reopening a section of Sandbridge Road, which meant nothing to me at 2 o’clock in the morning.”