City sends message in error to 18,000 homes
Appeal City Editor
About 18,000 Carson City residents received a “Code Red” phone message by mistake Wednesday afternoon.
The message, sent out beginning at 3:45 p.m., was intended for the city’s Health and Human Services Medical Reserve Corps – fewer than 95 people who were being asked to attend Friday’s “POD exercise” for Saturday’s flu shot clinic.
“It usually takes about three minutes,” said Carson City Fire Chief Stacey Giomi. “That’s when we first realized there was a problem when it was still sending.”
Confused residents soon began calling the city. The health services department, 911 and Carson City Fire Department received hundreds of calls from residents by 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“I stopped counting,” Giomi said.
The city’s reverse communication system, instituted following the 2004 Waterfall fire, is equipped to notify all 35,000 phones in Carson City in case of an evacuation, water outage or other emergency, said Giomi.
When there isn’t a widespread emergency, the system is used to call back city employees, or call out or deliver information to the city’s volunteer groups such as the medical reserve corps or the Citizens Emergency Response Team.
When there is a problem with the system, rather than fail to notify people, the system’s fail safe is to automatically call everyone.
“We got it stopped after about 18,000,” he said. “The idea is that it’s better to notify more people in an emergency.”
The city is working with its vendor, Florida-based Emergency Communications Network, to decipher what happened.
The calls go out to everyone “only if there’s a system failure,” Giomi said. “We think that’s what may have happened, but we’re not sure. It could be a problem with the Internet or with the vendor.”
Calls telling people to ignore the earlier message were still going out at 6 p.m., he said.
Some residents may have gotten the first call, but not the second, or the second but not the first, depending on how their phones were answered and where the system was when the calls were stopped.
“It’s a valuable tool,” Giomi said. “But nothing’s perfect.”
Tests of the system are run internally and quarterly and the system was used without incident to call out volunteers for last year’s flu clinic.
Homeland Security grants paid for the first two years of service. The city has paid an annual fee of $8,500 for the service in fiscal year 2006-07 and for 2007-08.
• Kelli Du Fresne is city editor for the Nevada Appeal. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 881-1261.