February 21, 2017
Confusion and chaos took hold of UNCW’s main campus Tuesday morning after an “erroneous alert” was issued.
According to David Donaldson, UNCW Chief of Police, at approximately 9:35am the UNCW Emergency Alert System sent texts, calls and emails to the phones of around 20,000 students and staff, warning of shots fired on campus. The alert told the students to “Avoid the area. Take Shelter. Wait for all clear.” Six minutes later, another alert was issued saying that the message was unintentional, emphasizing that “THERE IS NO EMERGENCY!”
Though the confusion only lasted a few minutes, it was enough to interrupt daily activity on campus. Students waiting in line to buy their breakfast at the on-campus Chic-Fil-A were rushed through the kitchen and behind locked gates.
“When a student first showed me the text, I thought it was a prank”, said Tanya Parker, an employee of Chic-Fil-A, “then my manager came up and told all of us to go to the office. We cleared out the dining room too so there were about 40 people in there.”
Many students were just sitting down for their 9:30am classes when the alert was issued. “The class was just starting up, the professor was handing back tests,” said one UNCW student, who preferred to remain anonymous, “then people starting passing their phones around, showing their neighbors the alert”.
Once a student notified the professor of the alert, the classroom was put into lockdown. “We were huddled in the corner of the room”, said the student, “a few of us of us got closer to the door to make sure no one was walking by”.
Other students had similar experiences. Like Tanya Parker, UNCW student Danny Rojas did not take the alert seriously at first. “I just figured the email was some sort of spam,” said Rojas, a 23-year-old computer science major, “then the TA turned off the lights and projector and gathered everyone in the middle of the room away from the windows,”
Rojas, a former marine, assisted in barricading the door of the classroom and positioned himself to take down a potential attacker.
According to Rojas, once the all clear was issued, many students were too flustered to stay in class. “No one was going to be able to pay attention after that, so basically everyone left. I wasn’t sticking around either”, said Rojas.
“The UNCW Police Department is more than regretful”, said Chief Donaldson. Donaldson claims that the alert was mistakenly issued during a training exercise. “The training was going perfectly, except the alert was actually sent out”, said Donaldson.
According to Donaldson, an error in the system allowed the training feature of the UNCW’s alert system software to be unknowingly switched off, sending a real alert to thousands of students during the routine exercise.
“The police need to verify an active shooter before an alert is sent out in order to maintain the integrity of our emergency alert system,” said Donaldson, “We are continuing to review the structure of the system to make sure nothing like this happens again.”