If you got a text message that was irrefutably sent directly from Verizon telling you to seek shelter immediately, what would you do? That's the question thousands of New Jersey residents came face to face with yesterday, after the carrier sent out a test emergency message but forgot to include the "test" part.
The text told users to "Take Shelter Now" and was identified as a message from the US Government.
The complete text message that every Verizon customer in three of the most populated New Jersey counties received just before 12:30 PM yesterday was as follows:
"CMAS Alert Civil Emergency in this area until 1:24 PM EST Take Shelter Now U.S. Govern."
CMAS stands for Commercial Mobile Alert System, which is the mobile phone equivalent of those annoying emergency test messages you receive through your TV (a system, incidentally, that has never been activated for a real emergency and likely never will be).
In some sections of the state, 911 call volumes quadrupled as confused and frazzled residents tried to figure out what was going on.
Local law enforcement had to actively reach out and assuage the fear. One city sent out an all-caps alert "THERE IS NO EMERGENCY" while Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden called it "a false text" that was "done maliciously" before fully understanding the text's origin.
Even the NJ Office of Homeland Security got involved, posting a message on its Twitter account to assure everyone there was no emergency.
In an e-mail sent to local publication The Star-Ledger, Verizon spokesperson David Samberg plainly said, "This test message was not clearly identified as a test. We apologize for any inconvenience or concern this message may have caused."