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OEM 'Shelter In Place' Cellphone Alert Causes Panic

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- People who live and work near Time Warner Center were alerted on their cellphones to shelter in place not long after reports started surfacing Wednesday morning of an explosive device found in the CNN mailroom.

But very little else was said.

The alert was sent out more than an hour after Time Warner Center was evacuated and it was jarring to see because for those who weren't watching the news had no idea why they were being told to do so.

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The 9-1-1 call was placed from the mailroom at 9:38 a.m. CNN's newsroom was evacuated shortly after 10 a.m., followed by Time Warner Center in it's entirety.

Then an alert went out to residents in the area at around 11:42 a.m. saying, "Residents on W 58th St btw Columbus and 8th Av shelter in place immediately."

"It was just well, why? Is it a terrorist attack? Is there a bomb? Am I in danger? Why should I just stay in place? Do I evacuate? I had no idea what to do," resident Alison Frischman told CBS2's Alice Gainer.

OEM shelter in place alert
This is the text alert the NYC Department of Emergency Management sent not long after a suspicious device was reported in the CNN mailroom inside the Time Warner Center on Oct. 24, 2018. (Photo: Jesse Zanger/CBSNewYork)

Frischman, who lives next to the Time Warner Center, said the initial alert gave no explanation. She said her building thankfully told her a little bit more in an email.

At 12:15 p.m., a follow-up alert was sent that said, "The suspicious device on West 58th Street and 8th Avenue was safely removed by NYPD bomb squad."

But many were displeased with the vagueness of the first alert.

"I actually found the alert to be unhelpful, to be perfectly honest. It really didn't provide any information," nearby apartment building manager John Czajkowski said.

"I feel like the emergency system should be doing a better job," Frischman said. "And if that's the way to communicate emergency situations, I would've expected a lot more instead of having to search for it myself."

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So CBS2's Gainer asked New York City Emergency Management Commissioner Joseph Esposito why no information was provided during the first alert.

"At this point, we're limited in the characters we can put out on an emergency alert system," Esposito said.

Commissioner Esposito said though short, the alert was to the point and accomplished what it needed to.

But he said the alert system will eventually change.

"We've petitioned the FCC and they've changed the rules and as of May of next year we'll be able to go over 300 characters, so there will be a lot more," Esposito said.

To those upset by the first alert, Esposito said, "Better safe than sorry."

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