Misdial behind false report of shooting at Waubonsee

Updated 4/5/2017 4:27 PM

A misdial caused dozens of police and firefighters to rush Waubonsee Community College on the false report of shots fired in the library on the Sugar Grove campus.

A Federal Emergency Management Agency instructor meant to send a sample text message during a class around 3:45 p.m. Tuesday, saying six people had been shot in Todd Library. The message was to have gone to a pre-established person, who would call back.

The instructor hit some wrong numerals, and the text went to a different person in Rolling Meadows, said Amanda Geist, Waubonsee's executive director of marketing and communications.

That person called 911, and officials there looked up the location of Todd Library, and notified Tri-Com Central Dispatch.

A Tri-Com operator called the instructor's phone. The instructor, assuming the call was part of the exercise, "confirmed" the shooting, Geist said.

That triggered the dispatch of first responders, including campus police, police from adjacent towns, Illinois State Police, Kane and Kendall counties' sheriff's deputies and more. About 60 vehicles from agencies as far away as St. Charles rushed to campus, according to Kane County Sheriff's Lt. Patrick Gengler.

Campus buildings were locked down.

"People were very shaken," Geist said. "It was very scary."

Police searched the library and determined no one had been shot.

Within about 10 minutes, a false-alarm message was broadcast on the school public-address system.

FEMA intends to take responsibility for the error, Geist said, but she did not know if that means FEMA will pay for the emergency agencies' costs. A FEMA spokesman could not be reached for comment.

Geist said Waubonsee was hosting the three-day continuing-education course, "Multihazard Emergency Management for Higher Education," which began Monday. Waubonsee's campus security director was attending, as were people from Northern Illinois University, Roosevelt University and College of DuPage, according to Geist.

According to a course catalog on FEMA.gov, the course teaches how to develop an emergency operations plan, using the nation's Incident Command System.

Geist said the college does conduct practice drills, but it notifies police and fire officials in advance.

The college was "incredibly grateful" to see how emergency workers responded, Geist said.

And even though Tuesday's event was a false alarm, "There's a lot to learn from this," Geist said. "There's always opportunity for growth in this."

Article Comments ()
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.