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USU apologizes, explains mishap that led to false ‘armed aggressor’ alert

Posted at 3:13 PM, Feb 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-21 00:14:38-05

LOGAN, Utah — Utah State University sent out a "Code Blue" Wednesday afternoon, the code for an armed aggressor on campus. At 3:01 p.m. thousands of phones across USU lit up with what appeared to be a real alert.

"Run, hide or fight," it read. "Police responding. More information to come."

Students and faculty jumped into action. At Luke's Cafe, staff promptly practiced safety protocol.

"The manager rounded up everyone. We got to our own safe spot in the back, where we locked up," said supervisor Audrey Lewis. It created a moment of panic, she said. This alert didn't appear to be a drill.

"Everyone was just kind of wide-eyed, and frantic about it," she said.

Students in class began to shelter-in-place, and said teachers turned off lights and shut blinds on windows.

"We blocked the door and took all necessary precautions," student Tanner Hooper said, of how his class responded.

"We were actually freaking out in the class," said student Britton Porter. "There was no way that we could lock any of the doors."

Eight minutes later, everyone's phones lit up again-- this time with an 'all clear' message. Students learned the threat wasn't real. But they also learned it wasn't a drill, either.

"During testing of the Code Blue system, an alert was accidentally sent," the follow up message stated. "Disregard previous message. Resume normal activities."

"It was a terrible mistake," said USU Director of Public Relations and Marketing Tim Vitale.

According to Vitale, the mistaken message was sent when an IT person wired in new emergency buttons in the campus police dispatch room.

The brand new buttons will allow dispatchers to send out an immediate alert in an emergency situation.

"When a 911 call comes in, they can punch a button," Vitale explained. "It would send out a Code Blue alert, like the one that got sent out."

The four buttons, installed on the wall, read: "ALL CLEAR," "EMERGENCY," "ACTIVE SHOOTER," and "SNOW REMOVAL."

The Code Blue was sent as the IT person tried installing the 'all clear' and 'snow removal' buttons, Vitale said.

"We hadn't yet set up the 'all clear' button, so we had to manually go into our computer system and type the message," he said. That took about eight minutes, leading to the lag between the original message and false alarm follow up.

While the university now knows just how quick this new emergency alert system works, Vitale mentioned that they also learned about potential gaps in training and response to these kinds of situations, that can help them in the future.

"We started looking, 'Okay, how can we look back at this, and address some of these issues that arose,'" he explained.

For now, all four emergency buttons are offline, USU said, until they can figure out what exactly sparked the alert and fix the wiring.

Code blue alerts are sent out "when a person with a weapon is actively threatening others on campus," and also in event of severe weather or a hazardous material spill threatening the campus.