Roanoke County Mistakenly Sends Warning Message About Prisoner Escape

The test alert was sent as Roanoke County prepares to launch a new emergency alerting system

A test alert message about an escaped inmate was sent out via phone, text, and email from Roanoke County on Tuesday but it was only a test message generated by Roanoke County’s new emergency alert system – there never was an escaped inmate.

The test alert message went out to approximately 30,000 households and businesses in Roanoke County within 15 minutes. The fact it went out to so many people was a mistake and Roanoke County has apologized for the error and any confusion it may have caused.

Below is a narrative of the voice messages that were sent to Roanoke County households and businesses:

“THIS IS A TEST: This is an emergency notification from Roanoke County. Please do not hang up. As of July 31, 2012; 9:55 am, an inmate escaped during a transport from I81 SB exit 140 headed toward Catawba Valley Drive. The Roanoke County Police Department and Deputies from the Roanoke County Sheriff’s Office are attempting to locate Robert Smith 6’0 blue eyes, blonde hair, 180 lbs; If you see this person please call 9-1-1 and report sighting. For further information call Lt Artz 540-387-6141 . Do not call 911 unless you have an emergency. THIS IS A TEST”

The alert was then followed up a short time later with the following: “PLEASE DISREGARD THE PREVIOUS MESSAGE, THIS IS A TEST OF THE RO CO ALERTS EMERGENCY SYSTEM.  PLEASE DISREGARD THIS PREVIOUS MESSAGE, THERE IS NO ESCAPED PRISONER. “

Roanoke County is planning to launch its new emergency alert system to the public in mid-to-late August using a software program provided by Twenty First Century Communications. The County currently has a test group of about 300 people – mostly Roanoke County employees- who’ve been receiving test alert messages this month from staff in Roanoke County’s Emergency Communications Center to ensure that the system is working properly.

On Tuesday, the test alert message about an escaped inmate should have only gone to the test group but mistakenly went to land-lines throughout Roanoke County. The test messages from Roanoke County should have displayed on a person’s Caller ID as a “RoCo Alert” – this is the name Roanoke County has given to its Emergency Alert System.

Roanoke County was able to stop the message while it was in process or even more households and businesses would have received the test alert.