Verizon in New Jersey sends out erroneous EAS test

New Jersey residents that subscribe to Verizon Wireless cell service had a modern-day "War of the Worlds" moment on Monday, Dec. 12. The telco was testing its EAS and accidentally sent out a text message that claimed to be a "civil emergency" warning telling residents to "take shelter now."

The emergency alert was sent out to New Jersey phone users of Droid-based phones in Monmouth, Ocean and Middlesex counties in the afternoon, claiming a "civil emergency in this area until 1:24 p.m." The alert message included the text "U.S. Govern," suggesting the text had come from the federal government itself, which fueled some panic among subscribers.

Local police departments and county authorities said they received a high volume of 911 calls from residents concerned about the alerts and asking whether there was an actual emergency. In response to the text alert, police in one town (Rumson) issued its own alert to citizens in the Monmouth County community: "THERE IS NO EMERGENCY. The 'take shelter' message that Verizon sent IS NOT a VALID message. DO NOT CALL THE POLICE."

Verizon Wireless issued a statement about two hours after the mass text was sent out. "This test message was not clearly identified as a test," company spokesman David Samberg said in an e-mailed statement to "The Star-Ledger" newspaper. "We apologize for any inconvenience or concern this message may have caused."

The text warning also prompted the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security to issue a special statement on Twitter that afternoon reassuring citizens there was no actual emergency.

The text message was part of the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS), a public safety initiative that involves FEMA, the FCC and wireless phone carriers and is expected to be fully implemented (with special chips in newly manufactured phones) by the end of 2012.