More than 150 emergency sirens blared across Dallas just before midnight on Friday in what city officials said was the work of a hacker.
The network of 156 sirens sounded at 11:42 p.m., and it was more than 90 minutes before all were shut off, said Rocky Vaz, Dallas director of emergency management.
“I believe the sirens went through about 15 cycles of 90-second siren activation,” Vaz said at a news conference on Saturday. The system was shut down around 1:20 a.m., he said.
Worried residents dialed 911 in a surge that clogged up the system, with some callers enduring six-minute wait times. Operators usually answer 911 calls within 10 seconds, Dallas spokeswoman Sana Syed said.
Dallas mom Beth Mortenson described the wailing sound as “like an air raid.”
“I knew there wasn’t severe weather, checked to see if there was severe weather. When there wasn’t I thought, we need to get out of here,” Mortenson told CBS-11.
Mortenson said a 911 dispatcher told her authorities didn’t know what was going on.
Vaz said city technicians initially suspected a malfunction and were forced to disable the emergency alert system to quiet the sirens. The citywide system is likely to be reactivated late Sunday or Monday. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide alternative emergency announcements if the need should arise, Vaz said.
Should the alarms go off before the system is reactivated, Vaz asked the public to not call 911.
Vaz said the idea that hackers would break into the emergency system was not a concern “until now.”
“This is a very rare event,” Vaz said.
He said someone may have accessed a couple of sirens before, but never the entire network. He declined to provide details on how the attack was carried out until the investigation is complete.
A search for whoever is responsible is underway with the help of the Federal Communication Commission, Vaz said.
“This is going to be a very long process,” Vaz said. “This is like finding a needle in a haystack, pretty much.”
Mayor Mike Rawlings vows to “find and prosecute whomever is responsible.”
“This is yet another serious example of the need for us to upgrade and better safeguard our city’s technology infrastructure,” the mayor said in a Facebook post. “It’s a costly proposition, which is why every dollar of taxpayer money must be spent with critical needs such as this in mind. Making the necessary improvements is imperative for the safety of our citizens.”