ATLANTA (AP) — It popped up on phone screens, crawled across television stations and blared from radios.
But the ominous “radiological hazard warning” that caused alarm across Georgia and in some neighboring states Thursday morning was only a test — one that was never supposed to be sent out to the public.
“The civil authorities have issued a radiological hazard warning for all of Georgia beginning at 7:59 a.m. and ending at 8:59 a.m. EAS radiological hazard warning this is a test take shelter,” the warning said, according to an audio recording of it posted online by Rahul Bali, a news anchor with the Oconee Radio Group.
The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency initially said in a tweet that the message was routine testing. “We regularly test our emergency alert systems to ensure they are working properly and this was ONLY A TEST MESSAGE,” the agency tweeted.
But Bali said that, for radio stations, it was not coded as a test.
“Because of the way it was coded, it went straight to air,” Bali said in an interview. “It was coded as an actual emergency.”
Bali said that his station received calls from worried listeners trying to find out more information.
It turns out that the warning wasn’t actually supposed to be sent to the public at all. The agency later said in a statement that it was meant only for internal training purposes.
“Upon further review, this test message was meant for internal training and testing only and not for public distribution,” the agency said. “Although the message clearly stated that it was a test, we are aware that there was confusion on the part of some.”
It is unclear how many radio and television stations broadcast the warning, but people across the region took to social media to express confusion and panic over the alert. Many said the part of the message that said it was just a test should have been much more prominent.
Even residents of neighboring Alabama, Florida and South Carolina reported receiving the message, according to Al.com .