Verizon sparked panic in central New Jersey yesterday by sending thousands of customers a text message reading: "Civil Emergency in this area until 1:24 PM EST Take Shelter Now US Govern." Verizon says the message, which caused 911 dispatchers to be swamped with calls, was part of an internal test of the emergency system that had been inadvertently transmitted. Some customers found their entire screens taken up by a message warning of an "extraordinary threat to life and property."
"I didn’t know if it was something happening in the ocean, something happening on land or coming out of the sky. I had no idea, so that’s why it was so frightening," a Verizon customer tells the Star-Ledger. Within about 90 minutes of the Verizon alert, New Jersey homeland security and emergency management offices used Twitter to inform the state that there was no emergency, AP reports. "This test message was not clearly identified as a test," a Verizon spokesman said in an email to customers. "We apologize for any inconvenience or concern this message may have caused." (Read more emergency preparedness stories.)