Indiana News

With no imminent threat, text alert for IMS vaccination clinic draws ire of some

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — State health officials on Tuesday morning sent out a mass text alert about a mass-vaccination clinic, but not everyone appreciated the notification.

Amber Alerts are probably the best-known part of the text alert system but are not the only part. There are also presidential alerts for national emergencies, and imminent threat alerts for extreme weather, active shooters and other crises.

There’s also a category called public safety alerts. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, public safety alerts are designed to provide information about threats that are not imminent.

Indiana State Department of Health officials would not say how many people got the alert, but it likely went out to hundreds of thousands of people in central Indiana.

The alert stated the free, drive-thru vaccination clinic at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is open through Thursday and accepting walk-ins.

Melissa Perry expected something different when she checked her phone. “You automatically assume that it’s something like a child being abducted, even a weather alert.”

Then she got the message twice more within the next 30 minutes while at work. “To open it up and see that it was definitely not emergent was quite frustrating.”

She’s not alone.

“I don’t know why we needed an Amber Alert essentially, an emergency message, for a COVID clinic,” Karen Spitler said.

Spitler got it four times, including every time she turned her smartphone on Tuesday.

“I understand the information was valuable information; people need that information,” she said. “But, I just think they went about it the wrong way.”

The Department of Health declined an interview about its text alert.

But, in a statement, officials say they consulted with FEMA and the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, and the alert met FEMA guidelines. State officials said they sent a similar alert for a mass-vaccination clinic in Gary and saw an increase in walk-in traffic.

While Spitler and Perry said they are not turning off their text alerts now, they do worry that using them in this manner will water them down in the future.

“I really want to know if something is happening in my area,” Spitler said. “If this becomes a habit, if this becomes the norm, then when actual emergencies arise, people aren’t going to pay attention, like ‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf.'”

“I want to be able to get the alerts, so if you turn them off, then you’re not going to get weather alerts, child-abduction alerts, and these are important to me personally,” Perry added.

The State Department of Homeland Security also an interview request, referring all questions to the Department of Health. Homeland Security also declined to say if it was worried that Tuesday’s alert might water down future emergency texts.

The FEMA text alert system was enhanced at the federal level in December 2019, which is also the first time the public safety alert message category was added. Regardless of where you live, alerts are sent to all smartphones within a specific geographic area.

Statement

“The public alert was sent today to Marion County and its surrounding counties to help increase appointments in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway mass vaccination clinic, which is offering both Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines and has available appointments each day this week. We sent a similar alert to Lake and surrounding counties last week and saw an increase in vaccination walk-ins at the FEMA mass vaccination site in Gary.

“The alert system is just one tool that the Indiana Department of Health has utilized to promote awareness of COVID-19 vaccination clinics. We launched a statewide public awareness campaign in January that includes radio ads, billboards, bus wraps, commercials and social media advertising. We also have promoted vaccine clinics around the state through direct text messaging to specific ZIP codes. In addition, we developed the Homebound Hoosiers program, have partnered with Lyft and Uber to provide free transportation, and are partnering with employers, universities and community partners to bring vaccine to Hoosiers where they live and work. Our goal continues to be to ensure that Hoosiers are aware that vaccine is available to them at no cost and at a convenient time and location and to remove barriers to getting vaccinated.

“The decision to issue the alerts was made by the Indiana Department of Health in consultation with the Indiana Department of Homeland Security and FEMA. The alert met the standards outlined by FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert & Warning System. You can read more about the system here: https://www.fema.gov/emergency-managers/practitioners/integrated-public-alert-warning-system

Indiana State Department of Health

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