UI: Emergency message a mistake

UPDATED 5 p.m.

An Illini Alert message sent out Thursday morning to 87,000 emails and cell phones was an error, the University of Illinois says.

The message system, which is intended to alert the campus to emergencies, was being tested. A message was sent that said, "Active shooter at BUILDING NAME/INTERSECTION. Escape area if safe to do so or shield/secure your location." 

 There was no emergency, and the message was sent in error, UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler said.

Because some people have signed up for the alerts using cell phones and multiple email addresses, the number of actual recipients is closer to 40,000, Kaler told The Associated Press.

Here is the latest email to the UI campus explaining the matter, sent just before 5 p.m. Thursday:

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.
Executive Director of Public Safety
Chief of Police
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Mike Corn
Chief Privacy and Security Officer
Office of the Chief Information Officer
This mailing approved by:The Office of the Chief of Police 



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Moruitelda wrote on March 24, 2011 at 11:03 am

Completely unacceptable. Sure, people make mistakes. But I still haven't received a correction via the Illini Alert system. This is a gigantic error, and they haven't gone through their own channels to keep people from worrying unnecessarily. Just plain unacceptable.

ar11 wrote on March 24, 2011 at 11:03 am

Couldn't agree more, completely unacceptable, and I have not received the supposed massmail yet either. "We sincerely apologize" doesn't cut it- this is ridiculous. You CANNOT make mistakes like that. The Illini-Alert system has been flawed with serious issues ever since its inception, one of the most severe being that the text messages and emails get to some students 15 minutes before or after other students- now how is that going to help us if we get it last? U of I needs to get their act together, in more than one way. This cannot happen and heads should roll because of this. I don't know what these people were thinking.

tellingthetruth wrote on March 24, 2011 at 11:03 am

I was SO relieved when I received my "Illini-Alert" at 4:28p.m. yesterday evening, telling me the fire on Green Street had been extinguished. WHEW! I was beginning to worry. I know people make mistakes, but an emergency alert system should NOT have errors. People will only disregard them now when messages are received.

Very unacceptable. It's the University of Illinois for goodness sakes, and they wonder why their acedemic ratings keep falling.

wesica4508 wrote on March 24, 2011 at 1:03 pm

I recieved this alert too, and am glad it was an error. My sister works on campus, and thinking there was someone running around shooting was terrifying. I recommend watching the types of alerts you "test" with, and use something a little less serious, like "THIS IS A TEST". Maybe keep that in mind for next time. I'm still waiting for my "mass mail" to tell me that it was an error. I also shouldn't have had to read it in the Gazette...we should have received the "error" message as soon as the first message was realized, not over an hour later.

BleacherBum wrote on March 24, 2011 at 3:03 pm

Chief O'Connor: How does this 'error' validate your department receiving a 2.5% pay raise? Especially when the university tells everyone they don't have any money? Your department is here to protect us, not scare the crap out of us. If any average Joe on the street hacked in or put out a bogus alert like this and then called it back saying it was just a joke they would be cuffed and incarcerated. This was not a random severe thunderstorm watch posted--it was an alleged shooting. Does NIU, Virginia Tech or Columbine register?

Somebody in charge of this so-called alert system needs to be severely reprimanded, if not terminated. Other state universities alert systems run so much better and without these correctable flaws.

Rorasaurus wrote on March 24, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Dear Campus Safety Bigwigs,

Apologies for causing mass "confusion and emotional distress" belong at the very top of official statements, not buried at the bottom.

Guy Who Freaked Out A Little This Morning

ck63 wrote on March 24, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Mistakes happen, but why didn't you guys send a mass text right after to explain it was a mistake? I did learn an important lesson today: Next time I go to Starbucks, I'll bring a gun... you know, just in case.

cevans wrote on March 24, 2011 at 9:03 pm

Yeah the lady on the channel 3 news basically said " We rather have this mistake like this then having the mistake of not sending anything out at all" hhmmmmmmmmmmmmm............. Well I can buy the part of having a mistake like not sending anything out but sending out a message that says theres a shooter on campus and that being a mistake should never ever happen and she should lose her job over those comments because something this serious shouldnt be just forgotten or called a simple mistake, heads need to role and instead of worrying about a freaking TAX INCREASE maybe the U of I should look into a better emergency response system or someone else to run the program because if this would of happend when school was actually going on this could have really affected the students on getting to class or other activities going on. Wake up U of I you guys are seriously starting to become a joke.

grounded wrote on March 25, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Geez people - CHILL.
I feel sorry for the person who made this honest mistake. As much as you might want it to be, technology is NEVER going to be perfect, and I think it's a sad statement when people rely on it entirely TOO much, over personal common sense. I received the message and did NOT freak out, because it was obvious that pertinent information was missing and within a minute or two, the correction was made. If someone freaks out so easily, immediately, without considering the full possibilities, perhaps they should consider the need for a prescription medication to calm themselves.

cevans wrote on March 26, 2011 at 12:03 am

WOW...............dont freak out huh, have you not seen the last few college shootings/ killings at colleges within the last couple years, it's kind of hard not to freak when there is a crazy person running around with a weapon that can kill a person. Comments like this just show that people dont think at all and dont acknowledge that there are psychos in the world. I agree to an extent that some people can blow things out of porportion, BUT this is not one of them and I agree people make honest mistakes, BUT this is unacceptable.