The Columbus/Bartholomew County’s emergency alert system, Everbridge, notified residents Saturday morning that downtown Columbus was closed and advised them to stay away because of a “major incident” that was occurring.
Getting information to people potentially impacted on a timely basis is great. But the wording left residents to wonder what the “major incident” was. Fire at a downtown building? Bomb scare? Bank robbery? Terrorist activity? Something else?
The lack of detail raised concerns for local residents with friends and relatives who live downtown or were headed in that direction Saturday morning, worried whether innocent people might be unknowingly in harm’s way.
About 45 minutes after the “major incident” notice went out shortly after 9:30 a.m., the alert system sent a follow-up notification to residents telling them that the situation had been resolved. However, the second notification still did not shed light on what had happened.
People had to scour news media websites and social media for complete information and peace of mind.
The issue turned out to be a gas leak at Columbus Bar, 322 Fourth St., where a gas burner had been left on overnight and a pilot light blew out. To their credit, public safety officials — who responded to an 8:22 a.m. Saturday call about a strong gas odor downtown — took the safe route by using the notification system to keep people away.
But the lack of clarity in the Everbridge notifications resulted in unintended anxiety and confusion.
As the Columbus/Bartholomew County Citizen Alerts fine-tune utilization of the Everbridge system, stakeholders ought to review language used in alerts so they achieve the desired result without causing people to panic — a situation officials would have never wanted to create.
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