Vague alert causes panic & floods dispatch center with calls

It was meant to alert Salem residents about contaminated drinking water, but it was sent to several counties.

Posted: May 30, 2018 11:34 PM
Updated: May 30, 2018 11:54 PM

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- A vague alert was sent to several counties Tuesday night, putting a lot of people in a panic.

The alert said there was a civil emergency in the area until 11:28 p.m. and said prepare for action. It was meant to alert Salem residents about contaminated drinking water.

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management said it was the result of a technology error. The state only meant to warn Salem residents to avoid drinking tap water, after tests showed low levels of cylindrospermopsin and microcystin (cyanotoxins) in treated drinking water. 

Officials said these toxins are created by algal blooms in the source of Salem's drinking water, Detroit Reservoir. The alerts applies to Salem, Turner, Suburban East Salem Water District and Orchard Heights Water Association. For more information on the alert, click here. 

People living in Benton County flooded the Corvallis Regional Communications Center with calls, overwhelming the 911 dispatchers.

"With that call volume coming in, the 911 system can basically start having problems trying to filter them out," said Bryan Lee, Emergency Services Planner with the Benton County Sheriff's Office. "We have no idea which calls coming in are actual emergencies or which are non emergencies."

Lee said to call 211 instead. He adds that Linn Benton Alert sent out a text of their own to ease concerns. It's a system run by the Benton and Linn County Sheriff's Offices and you have sign up to receive alerts. For more information on how, click here. 

Lee said residents interested in signing up can also call (541) 766-6864.

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