UNCW says user error was the cause of inadvertent 'shots fired' alert

Published: Feb. 21, 2017 at 3:38 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 22, 2017 at 6:14 AM EST
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A few minutes later, UNCW took to social media to say that the alert was sent out in error....
A few minutes later, UNCW took to social media to say that the alert was sent out in error. (Source: Twitter)

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - UNCW officials said user error during a routine training session was the cause of an inadvertent "shots fired" alert that was sent out campus-wide Tuesday morning.

The university apologized for the false alarm in a statement issued later in the day.

The university deeply regrets this false alarm, which was caused by user error during a routine campus training session. Campus officials immediately began to investigate how this error occurred in an effort to prevent it from reoccurring. We can confirm that there was no external interference (i.e. "hacking") involved in this error.

Our primary goal at this point is to ensure that this error and the subsequent alarm it caused do not undermine our community's confidence in the substantial safety measures in place on our campus. We also recognize and regret the potential psychological impact of this morning's error. Students who are experiencing any distress (related or unrelated to this alarm) should contact the Counseling Center at (910)962-3746; employees should call (877)274-7342 or visit (university web ID: UNCW). Training exercises pertaining to what to do in an active shooter situation are regularly offered by UNCW Police. Information is available via
Again, we want to offer our sincerest apologies for this morning's chain of events, and to reaffirm our commitment to the highest standards of public safety.

Around 9:35 a.m., UNCWAlert, a system that sends out texts, emails, and phone calls during emergencies on campus, sent out the following message to students and staff:

UNCW Alert! Sent on 21 Feb 2017.

University Police have received a report of shots fired on main campus.

Immediately take shelter in a secure location away from windows, secure any doors and wait for the all clear message. Emergency personnel are responding.

Updated information will be shared as it becomes available. Please do not contact the University to seek additional information, as university officials and emergency responders are busy addressing life safety concerns. Excessive phone calls may delay response.

Monitor your cell phone, email, UNCW homepage (, UNCWAlert page (, the Emergency Information Hotline at 910.962.3991 or 888.657.5751, and local media.

A few minutes later, UNCW took to social media to say that the alert was sent out in error.

The messages sent had students on high-alert. Many said they panicked after receiving the notifications. Some ran for shelter while others said they didn't know what to do.

"My thoughts were look around, watch out for stray bullets. 'What's going on? Where is it at? Why is there no more information,'" explained Kyle Cortez, a student at UNCW.

"Everyone started freaking out because they said there was a shooter, but honestly no one knew what to do," said Gianna Spitaliere.

Spitaliere and her classmates immediately locked the classroom doors, positioned themselves against the wall and tried to stay away from the windows.

"I was pretty freaked out because that was the first voicemail I had listened to and so that was telling me of the incident," said freshman Natalie Starr. "Then the next one explained it was unintentional which was so bizarre to me that we got that message."

After six agonizing minutes, the campus issued the all clear message, stating it was a false alarm.

"Once the message was released, there was no recalling it. That was the first thing I asked is, 'Can we bring it back?', and you just can't," said UNCW Police Chief David Donaldson.

UNCW immediately issued the following statement on their website after the incident:

An all-clear text message has been issued to faculty, staff and students via UNCWAlert, but in case it has not yet reached you, please be assured that there were no shots fired on our campus this morning. We are looking into how the erroneous alert was issued and we apologize for this unfortunate error and the undue alarm it caused.

Students said if this incident had been real, they don't feel they would be prepared and would like to see more drills on campus.

"Where is the information....where is the procedural stuff on what to do, why don't we have emergency plans," said Cortez.

"We wish we had more drills, we just feel we were not prepared for something like this," said Spitaliere.

Donaldson said they do have drop-in classes on what to do in an active shooter situation twice a month on campus. They also said that if students are feeling distressed from this situation that there are counselors available on campus.

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