Tsunami threat triggered Gray’s Harbor emergency alert – but nobody got it

ABERDEEN, Wash. — A 7.9 earthquake under the Gulf of Alaska led to a Tsunami Watch along the entire west coast Tuesday morning, including Washington. In Grays Harbor County, officials tried to send an alert to people’s phones, to warn them.

Problem is – nobody actually got it.

“It was at like 5 in the morning. So when I when I woke up at 7, that’s when I heard about it,” said Dalton Willis, eating dinner with friends inside the Lighthouse Drive Inn in Aberdeen. “(I was) scrolling through Facebook.”

Many residents, like Willis, found out on social media.

"It is very frustrating," said Janice Hoffart. "Because we were in imminent danger. If it was a real emergency we’d have to evacuate and meet up on the hills, so it was very concerning."

People have to “opt in” to alerts like that one - adding their names to a list.

RELATED: How to sign up for emergency alerts across Western Washington

Except even residents like Janice - who was already signed up - never got an alert.
Because while the county did attempt to send one, it never made it to the public.

In a statement released Wednesday, Gray's Harbor Emergency Management Deputy Director Charles Wallace took full responsibility:

"This morning, after discussing everything with Teleira, we discovered the Coastal Notification was indeed activated by Grays Harbor Emergency Management to send the Alaska Tsunami Watch information notice, but it failed to be pushed out to the citizens via Teleira due to a technical oversight," Wallace said. " The names for the coastal notifications were not in the queue to be sent, so as the notification request was activated, no notifications were sent."

"It's our life you know. We’re risking our life," said Hoffart. "It's really important for them to be on game and let us know what's happening so we can evacuate and get to shelter and safety."

The county says it reviews and authorizes any emergency notifications, which are then sent to phones through a third-party. A company called Teleira.

However emergency management officials are taking full responsibility.

"The issue should had been verified by Emergency Management once we received notice the changes were made by Teleira. It wasn’t," said Wallace. "Also, due to my haste yesterday morning, in attempting to alert the coastal notification recipients, I did not look to see how many people were in the queue before activating the notification message. As a result and unknown to myself in Emergency Management, none of the coastal recipients received notice via phone call, text or e-mail."

"It's very concerning that they didn’t do it right this time," said Hoffart.

However Willis and his friends say they understood, and that anyone is capable is making a mistake.

"If they made a mistake now, who's to say - they could do it again? " questioned Hoffart. "Maybe its not a fail-safe system?"

Others wonder what would happen if the threat had been more severe.

Or why the county’s tsunami sirens never went off.

That question is pretty simple. They weren’t supposed to.

The county says the sirens are only used when the threat of a tsunami is much higher--like at a warning level.  Tuesday morning the threat was only a watch.

Grays Harbor Emergency Management says it plans to try and earn the public’s trust back, and is taking steps to make sure this never happens again.

It’s creating a system to make sure someone double-checks, and verifies that the alerts are going to the right recipients.