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Well this sure is a different kind of story. I am starting to see it as reverse 911 abuse. Last Saturday 27,000 people who signed up for Alert SCC, Santa Clara County California’s emergency alert system via text, email and phone messaging received alerts from the Palo Alto Fire Department. The emergency: the fire department’s community pancake breakfast.
The fire chief says there was a perfectly legitimate reason for the alert. But some citizens aren’t buying it and the use of the system in this way is now being reviewed.
It really is a bait and switch. Like most of these systems across the country Alert SCC has a clear mission:
AlertSCC is a free, easy, and confidential way for anyone who lives or works in Santa Clara County to get emergency warnings sent directly to their cell phone, mobile device, email, or landline.
It doesn’t advertise itself as a community event alert. Just like you don’t want your 911 system bogged down with frivolous calls, I am sure the public doesn’t want its lifeline in an emergency sending out what many will view as spam. This is one where the chief would be better off saying we clearly screwed up and it isn’t going to happen again rather than trying to find justification for the error in judgment.
Fire Chief Eric Nickel said the reason for the alert was to inform nearby residents the event included a life-flight helicopter landing at a local school, something that has prompted 9-1-1 calls in the past.
But, because the message started with “Pancake Breakfast,” at least ten residents had complained that it was a misuse of the county’s alert system.
After receiving the complaints, the city of Palo Alto was looking into its use of the alert system.
“We’ll take a look at utilizing some of those other technologies, and possibly reserving the alert SCC for that emergency notification only,” Chief Nickel told KPIX 5.