Ohio officials tell residents not to worry: We’re not Hawaii

State officials say they have checks in place to prevent any false emergency warnings from getting sent out.

Breath easy Ohio: The type of panic that occurred from a false alarm about an imminent missile strike in Hawaii over the weekend wouldn’t likely happen here.

If you have a cell phone that receives text messages, you will automatically receive any alerts sent over the emergency system to warn Ohioans of tornadoes, flash floods or even an incoming ballistic missile.

But Jay Carey, spokesman for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, said Ohio has checks in place to protect against false alarms going out. In Hawaii Saturday a state technician mistakenly sent an errant message, thinking he was conducting an internal test of the system.

Ohio has no “test” mode, so operators know that all messages are live and every message must be approved by the Ohio EMA director or her designee, Carey said.

“We have a lot of safeguards in place,” he said. “It’s not just a technician who has the authority to send that out without approval.”

Wireless Emergency Alerts

Like other states, Ohio EMA has the capability to issue Wireless Emergency Alerts to any cell phone that is turned on in the state and broadcast messages over radio and TV stations via the Emergency Alert System. WEA messages can be sent to individual counties, regions or statewide.

The Wireless Emergency Alerts system is used to warn Americans about urgent and immediate threats to a specific area. Alerts include information about AMBER Alerts, presidential messages during a national emergency and weather warnings or threatening emergencies in a specific area, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These alerts are repeated twice and come with a special tone and vibration on your mobile phone.

WEA messages are sent to phones in a specific area — even if you’re just visiting — by broadcasting off area cell towers. WEA messages aren’t impacted by congested networks, do not interrupt calls in progress and are free.

The false alarm in Hawaii sent residents and tourists into a panic for nearly 40 minutes.

Ohio Department of Public Safety coordinates efforts by the state highway patrol, homeland security and emergency management to monitor traffic accidents, weather emergencies, terrorist threats and other situations. It coordinates with county emergency management agencies and local authorities.

Preparing for a disaster

Carey said the emergency operations center, on State Route 161 in suburban Columbus, is staffed around the clock. The focus this month has been on power outages, water main breaks, snow storms and bitter cold, he said.

While the false alarm in Hawaii may have some people thinking about terrorism, people want information about less catastrophic events as well. “I think the hurricane season we just went through has had a greater impact on people thinking about emergency preparedness,” said Carey.

He said now is the time to pull together a kit with bottled water, batteries, non-perishable food, extra medicine, transistor radio and a flashlight — a lifeline for any emergency event. And he advised that families should have a communications plan in place.

“Little things that don’t take much time or money to pull together can make a big difference in an emergency,” he said.

How are Wireless Emergency Alerts issued?

  • Messages are sent by government agencies through your mobile carrier
  • Alerts include warnings about missing children, extreme weather or national emergencies
  • Messages look like a text message, are no more than 90 characters and are repeated twice
  • The messages are free, not impacted by network congestion and broadcast through cell phone towers in specific areas impacted
  • The alerts go to any WEA-enabled cell phone in a specific area. (Most mobile phones produced after 2012 are enabled.)

SOURCE: Federal Emergency Management Agency

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