Credit: File photo

Montgomery College is implementing new safeguards to prevent staff members from erroneously sending emergency alerts after the second mishap in less than two years.

On Friday morning, a member of the college’s public safety team was practicing on Rave Mobile Safety, the software system the college uses to send out emergency communications.

The staff member, who was not publicly identified, did not realize he wasn’t using the system’s “training mode” and sent a message about an active shooter to nearly 18,000 students and staff members, college spokesman Marcus Rosano said.

Within minutes, a follow-up message was sent saying there was no shooter and no threat at any of the school’s three campuses.

In February 2018, a similar message was mistakenly sent while a staff member was training in the Rave system.

On social media on Friday, several people said the frequency of “false alarm” messages might make them question the validity of a real emergency alert in the future.

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“To have students or employees question our ability to tackle emergency communications — that’s something we’re taking very seriously,” Rosano said. “We don’t want anyone wondering if they’re safe and we certainly don’t want anyone to get that message in a real situation and think it’s fake. This is a serious, serious situation and we have to do better.”

Rave has templates already made for many possible emergencies, like severe weather and safety threats, Rosano said. Staff members have to tweak the templates slightly to provide an individualized, accurate message.

Friday’s message, for example, said there was an “Active shooter at [insert campus] Campus.” In a real situation, staff members would have indicated whether the shooter was believed to be at the Rockville, Germantown or Silver Spring/Takoma Park campus.

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A screenshot of the alert sent to students and staff and posted to social media on Friday morning. The Twitter post has since been deleted.

Rave on Friday began implementing a “fail-safe” for the Montgomery College alerts that will stop a message from being sent if there is a word with all capital letters. If a person pushed “send,” a second screen would pop up and ask if they’re sure they want to send the message, Rosano said.

About 60 Montgomery College staff members are authorized to send an emergency alert. Each of those people undergoes monthly training with the system.

In response to the incident on Friday, Rosano said the college is reviewing its training protocols, including who should be authorized to send the alerts. The college is considering implementing a new assessment staff members must complete that would “indicate they’ve shown proficiency” in the system. More frequent training is also being considered.

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The person who sent Friday’s message had been trained and was authorized to send emergency alerts, Rosano said. He entered the system to do additional training when the message was sent.

Rosano declined to comment on any possible discipline the employee had or would face, saying it is a personnel matter.

“We have to be so good at working this system, especially because if it’s a real emergency, it gets to be a scary situation for everybody,” Rosano said. “What this shows us is that we need to be repetitive in our training and we need to be trained impeccably.”

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Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com