University clarifies why CMU-Alert mistakenly included building collapse

On Tuesday evening, the CMU-Alert system announced that there was a protest at the University of Pittsburgh, a building had collapsed, many police were there, and students should avoid the area around Fifth and Thackeray Avenue.

Over 250 people had been protesting outside the O’Hara Student Center as Michael Knowles and Brad Polumbo debated whether laws should regulate “transgenderism.” The Pitt News reported that at 7:34 p.m. “a combination of a firework and smoke bomb” went off, the sound of an explosion echoing through campus. But there was no building collapse.

Twenty minutes after its original message, CMU-Alert sent a follow-up that “building collapse” had been sent in error.

According to media relations director Peter Kerwin, the person who sent the notification accidentally included part of a template message. The mistake in the original alert was “ex: bldg collapse.”

Kerwin told The Tartan that because CMU-Alerts are time sensitive, the system has default scripts that include locations and response guidance, such as “avoid the area,” “shelter in place,” “evacuate,” or “run - hide - fight.” Community members can learn more about these protocols on the Emergency and Preparedness Response page.

The CMU Emergency Preparedness and Response Team drafts and sends CMU-Alerts. The group includes representatives from the University Police Department, Enterprise Risk Management, Office of General Counsel, University Communications & Marketing, and Student Affairs. They send a message if there is an immediate threat to campus safety.

After using a script for initial alerts, Kerwin said, the team typically crafts more detailed messages. At that point more Emergency Preparedness and Response Team members are involved and collaborate on the notifications.

CMU-Alert sent five messages on Tuesday: the initial one at 8:16 p.m., the correction, two updates that the protest was ongoing, and a 10:19 p.m. “all clear” when the protest ended.

Vice President for Operations Daryl Weinert sent an email to the Carnegie Mellon community at 10:35 p.m. to address the mistake. “Though we quickly corrected the message, we are aware this likely caused concern,” he wrote, adding that the University is “taking steps to ensure such an error doesn’t recur.”