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Errant EAS alert startles East Texas broadcasters

East Texas broadcasters were surprised last week when the Shreveport office of the National Weather Service issued what many believed was an unusual EAS message – a Radiological Hazard Warning in the area.  What could it be?

There are no nuclear plants in East Texas – the nearest are the Comanche Peak Power Plants 1 and 2 near Glen Rose.  There have long been rumors of Cold War era missile silos in the region, could there have been a disaster involving a nuclear warhead?  The staff of an East Texas local primary EAS station contacted TAB wondering about the message, which had been relayed.  It seemed to them, and understandably so, as very unusual given the nature of any such facilities in the area.  East Texas news crews at area TV and radio stations scrambled to find out what was going on.

TAB staff feared a potential hack and contacted the National Weather Service’s New Braunfels office which oversees NOAA Weather Radio operations in the state.  They were initially unaware of an incident.  Within minutes, the circumstances surrounding the alert were tracked down by Joe Arellano, the Meteorologist in Charge at NWS Austin/San Antonio.

What should have been the routine Wednesday morning transmission of the NOAA Weather Radio Test inadvertently and erroneously was transmitted as a Radiological Hazard Warning.  An incorrect EAS header was used, triggering the Specific Area Message Encoder to display the Radiological Hazard Warning.  It should have gone out as a Routine Weekly Test.  To its credit, the National Weather service issued an advisory noting the issue and correctly broadcast the proper Routine Weekly Test soon afterward.

It’s an important example of which all broadcasters should take note – we have an obligation to the public to verify the accuracy of emergency information we relay to the public.  It is our duty to ask questions, especially tough ones, when emergency-related information seems unusual, factually suspect or erroneous.

In this case, East Texas broadcasters did exactly that.

Questions?  Contact TAB's Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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