The Hutch News reports that a recent AT&T software glitch meant everyone in the city of Hutchinson was able to successfully dial the number that triggers a citywide tornado alarm. Usually only accessible by three phones, an AT&T glitch meant that in late August and early September, these alarms could be triggered by any phone number. The tornado alarms were set off when residents misdialed numbers and accidentally rang the tornado lines.
According to HN, it took area officials several days to work out residents were setting off the alarms. Steve Garza, the city's lead traffic signal technician, electrician and the man in charge of working on the sirens, told the news service that it was frustrating trying to figure out the issue.
"I was kind of chasing a ghost," he said. "The sirens would go off and they'd send me out to check the lines and things would be fine. It was driving me crazy and it took a couple of weeks to figure out."
Mary Messamore, director of emergency communications for Hutchinson and Reno County, told the Hutch News that each siren is assigned a secure phone number and these can only be called using one of a select number of phone numbers in the city. Ms. Messamore believes that the sirens went off because people were misdialing and letting the tornado phone ring and ring.
"The way the system is set up, the first ring means the siren will go off for one minute, the second ring means the siren will go off for two minutes, and so on ..." she explained. "People were probably misdialing, and they would hear the phone keep ringing and ringing before they'd finally hang up."
Ms. Messamore added that there is also a number for testing out and triggering all the sirens at once and expressed relief that no one had dialed this number by chance.