Cryptic Emergency Alert Panics Oregon City’s Residents

Oregon’s emergency alert systems blasted a cryptic alert to cellphones around the capital city, panicking residents by telling them simply “Civil Emergency” and “Prepare for Action” and leaving off that the threat was toxic algae at a local water supply.

Officials wanted to warn Salem-area residents Tuesday night that elevated levels of a natural toxin caused by the algae bloom had made area tap water unsafe for children and people with compromised immune systems. But that information got cut off, and a more ominous-sounding default message went out in its place, said Andrew Phelps, head of the state emergency management agency.

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