False Alarm Siren in Ohio Offers Reminder for Police Trainers

There was no report of severe weather in the area and the Emergency Alert System is functioning correctly. KPD apologizes for any inconvenience caused by the alarm.

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A siren signaling the possible approach of a potentially deadly tornado had residents of Kettering, OH, on edge for approximately five minutes early one morning in late December as the emergency warning was inadvertently triggered during a training exercise, the Kettering Police Department said.

The agency said on its Facebook page, "There was no report of severe weather in the area and the Emergency Alert System is functioning correctly. KPD apologizes for any inconvenience caused by the alarm."

The incident was somewhat reminiscent—although substantially less impactful—of an incident in January 2018 when a "ballistic missile alert" was issued via the Emergency Alert System and Wireless Emergency Alert System in Hawaii, sparking widespread panic as citizens scrambled to seek shelter.

The incident in Hawaii lasted for more than a half hour before it became apparent there was no impending threat and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency was able to issue a correction.

Both incidents offer stark reminders that when conducting drills and training scenarios that closely mimic real-world incidents, clear communication with the community—well in advance of the exercise—is essential.

Police training events as complex as those that had once been part of Urban Shield—a Homeland Security training exercise organized and executed by the outstanding team at Alameda County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO), with the support of the Bay Area Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), and more than 150 local, state, federal, international, and private sector partners—can cause undue panic among uninformed citizens.

Consequently, it is incumbent upon agency leadership to communicate with concerned constituencies about what is happening, and why. Here are some best practices:

  • Issue a brief statement to local news media on the expected size, scale, and scope of the training event, including location, duration, and participating agencies.
  • Enlist the active participation of community groups and other stakeholders in the training itself—role players recruited from the citizenry can help spread the word.
  • Announce whatever details that can be made public via all available social media outlets (Twitter, Facebook, Nextdoor, and NIXLE, for example).
  • Monitor those social media outlets for activity among people who—for whatever reason—failed to heed the initial announcement, and respond directly to their concerns.
  • Be prepared to issue after-action summaries of the training activity to the local news media so they may bring to conclusion any stories that emerge in the "news cycle."

Police training conducted in "real world" environments can provide law enforcement personnel with invaluable experience. Active shooter training conducted in places where an actual active shooter event might transpire—such as a mall, a school, a theatre, or a sporting venue—instills confidence not only in the responding officers, but in the people who inhabit those places every day.

However, all care must be taken to ensure that false alarms are not created, which could undermine everyone's response if "the real thing" were to one day come to fruition.

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