'ODOT made a mistake': Agency apologizes after issuing false alert about plane crash | KATU

by Joe Douglass, KATU News

Through its TripCheck website, Oregon's Department of Transportation issued a false alert Tuesday morning saying an aircraft crashed on Interstate 5 around the Marquam Bridge.


On Tuesday, another frightening false alarm was sent out by a government agency, this time in Portland. Oregon's Department of Transportation (ODOT) apologized after wrongly putting out an alert saying there was a plane crash on I-5 around the Marquam Bridge.

"ODOT made a mistake on this," said Don Hamilton, a spokesman for the agency. "We certainly hope that there was no confusion or concern."

The alert was left up on social media for hours.

Hamilton said mistakes like it have happened before.

“This was human error," Hamilton said. "We need to train and remind everybody involved in these testing scenarios this is not acceptable. They have to follow the right procedures to make sure this does not happen again.”

On Jan. 3, a tsunami siren sounded in Seaside along with a warning. The city told people soon after it sent out the "wrong message," incorrectly telling people a giant wave was on the way.

Then on Jan. 13 in Hawaii terror struck after the state's emergency management agency sent out a false message about an inbound ballistic missile threat.

For the mistake, David Ige, Hawaii's governor, apologized.

"It is clear what happened revealed the need for additional safeguards and improvements to our state system," Ige said.

In Portland Tuesday morning, there was another false alarm, this one from ODOT.

Through the agency's TripCheck website it sent out an alert and tweets saying, "I-5, 1 Mi S of I-84, Closed, An air craft (sic) crash has occurred, use an alternate route ..."

Hamilton said the alert was false.

"We were conducting a test and instead of being private and internal it went public," he said. "And for about four minutes there was an alert out there that there had been a plane crash when, of course, there had not been any plane crash."

After being asked why a tweet from @TripCheckPDX was still up about two-and-a-half-hours after the false alert was issued, Hamilton said, "We worked to get some of the automatic tweets down but it took a long time to chase down some of the tweets that are generated automatically."

Hamilton said a technician made the mistake.

"Anytime you're doing a test scenario you have certain computer programs you do and for some reason in the course of this is this went live. And it went external instead of internal," He explained. "This has happened before in the last ten years, happened, I think, two other times. We're taking steps to make sure we don't see a repeat of this in the future."

Hamilton said ODOT will make sure all of its operation centers are told about the incident and to include a message saying 'this is a test scenario' on their practice alerts. He said they'll do everything they can to make sure those alerts don't go public.

"Maybe we should, if it’s a test scenario, don’t write any scary scenarios up there like a plane crash in there," Hamilton said. "If it’s only a test and it may go public we need to be careful and be cautious.”

State emergency officials in Oregon and Washington told KATU alerts are generally generated by agencies at a local level.