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Aurora evacuation alert left out enough details that resident thought it was a scam

One neighbor thought it was a scam.

AURORA, Colo. — Have you signed up for emergency notifications in your city or county yet?

Ever since the Marshall Fire, Next with Kyle Clark has made a concerted push to get more people signed up for the opt-in emergency alerts.

Aurora 911 sent its first evacuation alert since contracting with a new reverse notification service -- CodeRED -- in September 2020.

Though, it was missing necessary information that caused resident Thom Graham to feel the message was a scam.

"No sirens. No alarms. No smoke, nothing. It was like this, totally quiet," said Graham.

On April 8, Graham was one of 459 contacts sent an evacuation alert in a neighborhood near Buckley Space Force Base.

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Credit: 9NEWS
Aurora emergency alert map

"It is April 8 at 10:44 a.m., Aurora Police is currently working a critical event in the area. We are issuing a mandatory evacuation for your neighborhood. There are emergency personnel and vehicles in the area," Graham read from the text.

"We saw no cars, no sirens, no police, nobody leaving their homes, so we just figured it was scam," said Graham.

He called Aurora Police to report a scam text, to find out it really came at the request of Aurora Police.

"We thought it was a joke," he said.

Adding to his confusion, was the content at the end of the text.

"Monitor [twitter.com/AuroraPD, twitter.com/AuroraFireDpt] and local news for additional information," said Graham.

"Nothing on the Twitter page. When we finally got to the Twitter page of the link, there was nothing to tell us what to do, where to go," said Graham.

Credit: 9NEWS screenshot
Credit: 9NEWS screenshot

During the evacuation alert time period, the most recent Aurora Police Twitter account post was unrelated from the night before.

The most recent Aurora Fire Rescue post was a video of an unrelated house fire.

When asked about the alert, Aurora Police told Next with Kyle Clark that it was because a homeowner found what appeared to be a possible explosive device in an outdoor shed.

"We thought it was a scam," said Graham. "There was nothing to say where do we go? So, we grab our valuables, hop in the car, what do we do? Where do we go? Where do we head?"

"Be very specific on where the emergency is and what it is," said Micki Trost, spokeswoman for the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

Trost helps train on how to write emergency alerts.

"For any evacuation notice, it should say who's telling me to leave, why and where to go. It should tell me what the threat area is, as well, to have a really, good solid message," said Trost.

"The error, it was on our side. Instead of using a templated message that was preprogramed into the system, our staff members utilized an ad hoc format of sending the message," said Aurora911 Director Tina Buneta.

Buneta explained that if the correct evacuation alert template had been used, it would have prompted the dispatcher to include more specific information.

"Now that we know that that happened, we were able to identify that that was the incorrect way of sending that evacuation notice," said Buneta. "Because this is very important, we've taken immediate steps with our staff members to review that process with them one-on-one and ensure that they understand the location of the templates, how to use those in the system."

The reason the alert included a social media link for information is by design.

"They can take the bandwidth of all of those people clicking on a link to get additional information," said Trost.

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Trost said local government websites can be taken offline with many people clicking the same link around the same time.

"It's nice if you're on Twitter and you're connected, but for all those people, and especially seniors out there that aren't, that's not a useful tool," said Graham.

Graham said when he clicked on one of the Twitter links, it asked him for a password and he does not have a Twitter account.

For people who do not have Twitter, clicking on a Twitter link will allow you to scroll through the page. At the bottom of the page, there is a blue bar that has a "log in" or "sign up" button. You do not need to click on either to continue viewing the content.

An Aurora Police Department spokesman said that a public information officer was monitoring the evacuation event on April 8, but did not publish any information on Twitter.

"Our unit is taking the proper steps to ensure that in the future, since the alert asks the public to monitor our Twitter, that we coordinate our public messaging with wat the CodeRED is saying," said Agent Matthew Longshore.

Buneta said this allowed her to make sure her staff knew that they could push for more information before sending out an alert.

"If the information is incomplete, that they are certainly empowered to prompt and redirect field responders until they receive the information adequate enough to send the message to the public," said Buneta.

An "all clear" was sent at 12:13 p.m.

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