No reason to be alarmed

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A tsunami warning that was posted on some weather and social media platforms Tuesday morning was only a test, and should not have been made public, according to an email from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

The alert was issued at 8:30 am by the National Weather Service over the Emergency Alert System, and was intended to go only to state warning points and other government agencies, email from a MEMA spokesman states. “This warning did not go to the public via the Wireless Emergency Alert system. But some news and weather services picked up the test message and posted it on their apps and via social media. The message that was posted to apps and social media, in some cases, did not make it sufficiently clear that this was a test.”

Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling said his department did not receive the test from the National Weather Service, but did receive the follow-up email from MEMA.

“The National Weather Service and local news channels are actively tweeting and posting on social media that this was a test message,” the MEMA email states. “We have already shared this on our social media platforms.”

AccuWeather, one of the outlets that repeated the message as a “tsunami warning,” issued a press release Tuesday afternoon blaming the glitch on how the message from the National Weather Service was coded. “While the words ‘TEST’ were in the header, the actual codes read by computers used coding for real warning, indicating it was a real warning,” AccuWeather’s press release states. “The NWS warning also later appeared on other sources such as The Weather Channel, and it even appears on some pages of the NWS’ own website as a real warning. The NWS is the original source of the information, and displayed it as a real warning.

Tsunami warnings are handled with the utmost concern by AccuWeather, and it has sophisticated algorithms to scan the entire message, not just header words, as from the time of a warning to the actual event can be mere minutes. AccuWeather was correct in reading the mistaken NWS codes embedded in the warning. The responsibility is on the NWS to properly and consistently code the messages, for only they know if the message is correct or not.”

The botched message is getting the kind of response you’d expect on social media. “Have we moved to Hawaii?” wrote one person on the Islanders Talk Facebook page. That’s a reference to the inadvertent alert there last month that a missile attack was underway.