Alameda County explains why earthquake alert came 90 minutes late

DUBLIN, Calif. (KGO) -- A small earthquake was felt by thousands Monday evening in the Bay Area, prompting many news organizations, including ABC7 News, to send out push alerts within 10 minutes.

But It took Alameda County's emergency alert system a lot longer to send out emails and text messages -- an hour and a half longer, to be exact.

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"Sometimes we have to make a decision about when (or) should we do an alert -- or should we not do an alert, so you don't want to alarm people unnecessarily," said Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.

Kelly said that was the conversation taking place in the county's Emergency Operations Center even long after alerts had been sent out by many Bay Area news apps. Kelly said the county's system, called AC Alert, was meant for major disasters. It was installed about two years ago in response to a grand jury report finding the county needed a better way to notify its residents of dire emergencies like 1991's Oakland Hills firestorm.

"They basically used police cars and fire trucks and sent people door-to-door trying to get people out," said emergency services supervisor Paul Hess.

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Now, in a large scale emergency, AC Alert can tap into the Federal system that notifies every cell phone nearby, similar to an Amber Alert.

"Even if you're a visitor in the area, we could hit your cellphone and let you know what protective action you might need to take," Hess said.

As for this earthquake, initially measured at magnitude 3.6, it wasn't a major disaster. That's why there was debate about whether to send an alert at all. Kelly said that's what happened during the hour and a half following the quake.

"It appears to me there was a discussion that was taking place, emergency managers were crafting the message," he said.

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Ultimately, county officials made the call to alert only those who had opted in by signing up for AC Alert online. Kelly called it a good exercise for the county in using the technology, and a good reminder for its residents that AC Alert is there.

"To bring awareness to the system, and as a result of that, overnight, we had several thousand more people sign up for the program," Kelly said.

He added the county would like thousands more to sign up. Of Alameda County's 1.5 million residents, only about 10 percent have opted in so far.

You can read more about AC Alert and sign up here.

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