Salem’s Officials Failed to Use Emergency Alert System to Notify People
SALEM, OREGON – May 31, 2018
Andrew Phelps, Oregon Office of Emergency Management’s director, is apologizing for pushing the panic button by sending a vague wireless emergency alert without "specific information we had meant to send” about Salem ’s hazardous drinking water.
"The integrated public alert warning system inadvertently defaulted to a generic message," Phelps said in a video posted by the Office of Emergency Management on Facebook. "I apologize for the confusion and the anxiety this incomplete message has caused."
"This was a failure on our part," he added.
Three toxic algae blooms were discovered in Detroit Lake, and tests have shown a high concentration of the liver toxin microcystin and cylindrospermopsin on May 25. Four days later, on Tuesday, the officials sent an alert warning. The problem is the message itself:
When there is no specific information, such a message can easily create panic. It took 31 minutes for officials to understand that something went wrong and they had to send a second message with more information. The new message was dispatched at 9:00 PM “Water Emergency for the Salem Area http://www.cityofsalem.net.” Soon after the city of Salem’s municipal website crashed under the load. Residents also bought up all bottled water in town after the first alert.
According to the Statesman Journal, Salem officials refused Wednesday to fully explain why they waited four days to tell residents they had discovered toxins in the city's drinking water over the holiday weekend. Salem’s mayor is Chuck Bennett and Oregon’s governor is Kate Brown, both of whom are Democrats.
This has been the second time this year the EAS served the opposite goal to its initial meaning. In January Hawaian officials sent out a false alarm warning of an incoming ballistic missile.
Who is in danger?
The contaminated water poses a danger for children younger than 6 years old and vulnerable adults. Officials claim there is no danger to healthy adults.
In addition, officials claimed the water was safe to use to clean, bathe and wash dishes, as well as doing laundry, washing your hands and flushing toilets.
"However, infants and young children under the age of six should be supervised while bathing and during other tap water-related activities to prevent accidental ingestion of water," the advisory states.
David Farrer, a public health toxicologist with the Oregon Health Authority, said these toxins are not absorbed through the skin, and the only way for them to harm human beings is if they are swallowed.