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Emergency alert mistakenly sent to 160,000 phones in Jefferson County Saturday night

The alert was intended to be sent to only 40 phones in Lakewood warning people to shelter in place early Sunday morning.

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colorado — An emergency alert in Jefferson County early Sunday morning was supposed to go out to just 40 phones. Instead, 160,000 phones started ringing shortly after midnight, telling people across the county to shelter in place. 

Jeffcom911, the agency charged with sending emergency alerts, is still working to figure out whether it was a glitch in the software or human error that caused the mistake.

"It’s unfortunate. It certainly was never our intent to send something like that out to that vast of an audience," said Jeff Streeter, Executive Director of Jeffcom911. "We know it’s very scary and trying when you’re sleeping to be awoken by a phone call and hear there’s a shelter in place. You’re trying to figure out if this is impactful to me or not."

Every single phone in Jefferson County that was signed up to receive emergency alerts through the Lookout Alert system got a call shortly after 12:30 a.m. From Littleton to Conifer and everywhere in between, 160,000 phones buzzed with a warning that there was a threat to the recipient's safety. The alert said there was police activity on Robb Street in Lakewood.

Credit: KUSA

"It’s too early for me to discern whether it was user error or a system error," Streeter said. "We’re certainly going to look into that so that we don’t have this issue arise again in the future."

On some phones, the call came in as a number from Greece. Streeter doesn’t know why that happened, but said that something obviously went wrong.

Confidence in these emergency alerts is crucial. If an emergency were really happening, telling people in a moment’s notice that they need to get to safety would be vital. 

Jeffcom911 said they aim to be right 100% of the time and wanted to be sure to apologize to the community that received the alert. 

"It’s important that these things are accurate, that the system is operating correctly and utilized correctly," Streeter said. "We know how important it is for their safety to get them notified in a timely manner."

Donald Lynn is one of the tens of thousands of people who live nowhere near Robb Street in Lakewood. Still, he was woken up by the call telling him to shelter in place.

"I’m 18 miles away from the address the alert said," Lynn said. "The message said to lock your doors, which I had already done, and close your windows and shades and go to your basement."

He said he worries people will lose confidence in the alert system.

"This could be the boy crying wolf," Lynn said. "You stop listening after a while."

Emergency notifications can save lives. Now the work begins to figure out what went wrong.

"The supervisor that sent this out felt they had the geographical area identified appropriately, which would have really been about 40 residents," Streeter said. "Somehow it went out to all."


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