How did a bogus evacuation order get sent over the airwaves Thursday?

A microwave dish sits atop the Eyewitness News studios on Westwind Drive in Bakersfield, Calif., Friday, Feb. 23, 2018. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Human error or equipment malfunction are two theories Friday about how a bogus evacuation order was sent over Kern County's airwaves Thursday afternoon, prompting panic and confusion for many.

"It got to the point I just saw the numbers coming through and just answered with, 'It's not an evacuation, I'll call you back,'" said Rusty Burchfield, an engineer at American General Media and chair of the Emergency Alert System.

The EAS is activated by either the Hanford office of the National Weather Service or the Kern County Emergency Communications Center, the dispatch center for county first responders. From there, the message goes to three radio stations, KUZZ, KERN and KISV, which forward the information to all other licensed broadcasters in the county; radio and TV stations, cable and satellite providers and phone carriers.

This communication between stations is handled by a piece of equipment that creates a log of the activity, so we know that the message on Thursday began with the Kern County Fire Department. What exactly caused the problem there is unknown.

"It's possible that it's hardware failure, which we're looking into. And another theory is that it could've been an operator who's not familiar with the box and it could've been maybe the documentation on how to run a test may not have been as accurate, all of which we're looking at," Burchfield said, though he did note that a blank test message is easy to order and a specific alert is more involved.

close video ad
Unmutetoggle ad audio on off