What was meant to be a test of the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) left Verizon customers calling their local police departments about a reported "Civil Defense Emergency."
A statement from Verizon said that at around noon on Monday the message was sent to customers in Middlesex, Monmouth and Ocean counties and was not properly identified as a test. "We apologize for any inconvenience or concern this message may have caused," the statement said.
The alerted resident via Nixle that Verizon customers may have received a message saying "Civil Alert. Take shelter before 1:24 pm." Police assured residents there is no emergency.
According to the website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the CMAS is "a partnership between FEMA, the FCC and wireless carriers, whose purpose is to enhance public safety." The system is meant to send out "Presidential, AMBER, and Imminent Threat alerts." More information on the system can be found here.
The Howell Police Department said calls began coming in around noon about the text messages with callers being told that no situation actually existed. Police dispatchers in Manasquan and Belmar said they had not received any calls regarding the erroneous text message alert.
The problem was widespread. The Howell Police Department said calls began coming in around noon. The Red Bank Police Department sent out an email to residents alerting them that it was a hoax. "Initially it appears that a database was hacked and that some cell phone subscribers received this phony alert."
Red Bank Police also confirmed that the text message did not come from their system and in the email say it was a nationwide system that was hacked. "There is no civil emergency at this time and no action is required of the public," it concluded.
Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden said calls to the 9-1-1 system there more than tripled in volume from what they would be for a typical weekday lunch hour after the message was received. Golden said within a half hour 172 calls were recieved.
The New Jersey State Police are also aware of the situation. An email from the Regional Operations Intelligence Center (ROIC) said the message went through several counties alerting recipients they should "Take shelter before 1:24 p.m. The ROIC email reports that the text was carried on Verizon phones but appears to be limited to the central part of the state.