Montgomery College sends false alarm about active shooter

WASHINGTON — Montgomery College was the latest to send a false alarm when a test message blasted out to thousands that an active shooter was on campus Wednesday afternoon.

At 1:03 p.m., the Montgomery College alert system sent out a text message that said there was an armed person on campus — but it didn’t specify at which of its three campuses. The message also advised students to go to a room and lock the doors, and to stay away if they weren’t on campus.

There was no gunman or suspicious person at any of the campuses, and the message was attributed to human error, said Montgomery College spokesman Marcus Rosano.

“We discovered the mistake within probably one or two minutes, and we immediately got ahold of our campus security offices to make sure that everybody on campus — whether it be student or staff or faculty — was being told that this was a mistake, that there was no threat at Montgomery College,” Rosano said.

Around 1:10 p.m., Montgomery College sent a follow-up message that gave the all-clear.

The alarming message was a template for alerts about an armed person on campus and included the phrase “insert place here.” The message went out via text message to the more than 8,900 cellphones that have signed up for the college’s alert system, Rosano said.

The message distressed many the many students, parents and community members that receive the alerts, and Rosano said he understands why: “It is a scary time.”

“We regret the alarm and the fear that it really could have caused for a few minutes for some of our students,” he said. “I’m a parent, and I have three kids and I can’t imagine what a parent who got an MC alert that there was an armed person at their child’s campus … I can’t imagine what that feel like to a parent.”

There are a few folks who have access to the college’s emergency alerts, and someone accidentally hit “send,” he said.

Rosano said moving forward, the school is reevaluating its protocol for sending alert messages.

The flub comes after several other false alarms have made national news. In January, there was a bogus ballistic missile warning in Hawaii as well as a malfunction that triggered sirens at a North Carolina nuclear power plant. Earlier this week, an alert that was supposed to be a test instead warned multiple locations on the East Coast that a tsunami was on its way.

Sarah Beth Hensley

Sarah Beth Hensley is the Digital News Director at WTOP. She has worked several different roles since she began with WTOP in 2013 and has contributed to award-winning stories and coverage on the website.

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