So yesterday we had a fire in campus town (see my blog post for some pics).

The first illini text alert sent out about it just said that a fire was at ‘631 E. Green’. Didn’t give the city, nor did it give an intersection near there. If you didn’t already know where it was, you might have been confused.

This was discussed quite a bit on the CCSP sysadmin mailing list around campus.

So, today.. we get the following:

Subject: Active Shooter/Threat
Active shooter at BUILDING NAME/INTERSECTION. Escape area if safe to do so or shield/secure your location.

I start getting emails and chats wondering if there’s something going on. I suspected it was a failed test. Sure enough, emails from our building came out saying to ignore it.

Then another txt was sent out saying to ignore the previous.

Then an email from the chief of police was sent saying to ignore it, and that they ‘sincerely apologize’ for the accident.

Gotta love technology.

At 4:36pm (about 6 hours after the incident, the following was sent from the chief of police…

To the campus community:

This morning at 10:40, an Illini-Alert message was sent to 87,000 email
addresses and cellphones indicating there was an active shooter or threat
of an active shooter on the Urbana campus. The message was sent
accidentally while pre-scripted templates used in the Illini-Alert system
were being updated. The updates were being made in response to user
feedback in order to enhance information provided in the alerts.

The alert sent today was caused by a person making a mistake. Rather than
pushing the SAVE button to update the pre-scripted message, the person
pushed the SUBMIT button. We are working with the provider of the
Illini-Alert service to implement additional security features in the
program to prevent this type of error.

The alert system is designed to send all messages as quickly as possible.
The messages generally leave the sending server within two minutes. This
design is essential for emergency communications. However, this prevented
the cancellation of the erroneous alert once it was sent.

Additionally, once we send an emergency message, we are dependent on the
cellular telephone providers to deliver the text message to the owner of
the cellphone. This is a recognized issue with all text-messaging
systems. This is one reason we use multiple communication mechanisms,
including email and our Emergency Web alert system, which is
automatically activated when we send an Illini-Alert message. We cannot
rely solely on text messages to inform our community of an emergency.

The Chief of Police has charged the campus emergency planning office with
reviewing and documenting todays incident. We are reviewing comments we
are receiving as a result of the incident and will implement all
reasonable and appropriate ideas or suggestions.

We recognize the campus community relies on us to provide accurate and
timely emergency information. We are working diligently to improve our
processes so that this type of incident does not happen again. Finally,
we apologize for the confusion and emotional distress caused by the
initial alert.


Barbara R. O'Connor, J.D.

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