A push notification sent Tuesday morning by AccuWeather was supposed to be labeled as a test, the National Weather Service in Charleston said. Provided
For 15 minutes Tuesday morning, Charleston was gloriously free to disregard any number of nagging, persistent problems.
Traffic? Eh, give it a minute.
Lack of affordable housing? Just wait for it.
Beach erosion? Not our primary concern at the moment.
For a fleeting time, city officials could dream of pocketing that $100 million for The Battery wall, and South of Broad residents could rethink plans to raise their houses.
Because the entire city was about to be DESTROYED BY A GIGANTIC TIDAL WAVE.
Yes, at 8:30 a.m. — in the middle of morning commute — AccuWeather sent alerts to cellphones around the Lowcountry that said Charleston was threatened with global extinction. Here’s the notice:
Severe Weather Alert
Tsunami Warning in effect for Charleston, SC until 9:28 AM EST. Source: U.S. National Weather Service
That’s it. No further details. Not a SURF’S UP or even a helpful reminder to RUN.
They just let that hang there for 15 minutes, in a city that floods during summer showers. And they call this the Information Age.
Here’s some information that would be useful right now: Who gets fired for this?
Those guys at the Folly Beach Washout must have taken it pretty hard.
Sentenced to a life of middling, Atlantic Ocean waves, they were finally going to see some actual Hawaii 5-0 action.
Then, at 8:45, the National Weather Service Charleston ruined everybody’s plans for the end of the world.
The Weather Service reported that AccuWeather had mistakenly sent out a test notification from the National Tsunami Warning Center without actually including the word “test.”
Which is kind of an important distinction.
One message says: “Hey guys, we’re just making sure our computer’s working.”
The other: “A wave, possibly 100 feet tall, has been generated by underground seismic activity, nuclear warhead detonation or Godzilla — and everyone on the East Coast is going to die.”
They put the warning out immediately, but took 15 minutes to correct it.
Maybe some of this is semantics. If the National Tsunami Warning Center — which routinely sends out reassuring messages such as “Tsunami NOT expected today” — wants to test their reporting system, perhaps be less specific.
Because “until 9:28 AM EST” sounds pretty authentic, and alarming.
But the bigger concern is that no one is taking responsibility or even thinking about the tsunami-like consequences of mass panic.
If this had been …
The prospects of a tsunami around here are improbable but worrisome for anyone with a passing knowledge of science.
Which admittedly rules out a large swath of the population.
Still, tsunamis are particularly troubling. They look like any other swell until they reach shallow water, and move at about 500 mph. They tend to result in massive property damage and high casualty rates.
So anyone who took that notice seriously could have used some reassurance in that 15 minutes of lag time. Instead, a half-hour later we had AccuWeather and the National Weather Service pointing fingers at each other.
AccuWeather said the NWS alert was coded wrong, that the computers didn’t read the “test” part of the message.
That’s the same sort of dubious excuse Hawaii got last month when somebody sent a missile alert warning in the midst of petulant posturing by dotard politicians.
But the problem isn’t computers; it’s people. If you are going to broadcast anything that even hints at the possibility of regional apocalypse, maybe cut HAL out of the loop.
It would be preferable that a sentient being — preferably someone with a smidge of common sense — read over such messages first. You know, someone who might think it’s a little vague and unnerving to forecast that a low-lying state is about to be wiped off the map.
An increasing number of people rely on their phones for information these days, and tend to trust the notices they receive. Yet the U.S. has been subjected to two erroneous, and horrifying, false warnings inside a month. And somebody thinks clarifying Tweets are the remedy.
Sorry, but some people tend to freak out at the idea of cataclysmic natural disasters, or the End Times.
So anyone who invites trouble with a mistake like this should get their own push notification — right out the door.