Raleigh officials won't answer why emergency alerts weren't sent out during mass shooting

Samantha Kummerer Image
Thursday, March 30, 2023
Why didn't Raleigh send emergency alerts during the mass shooting?
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As the Hedingham neighborhood and surrounding communities heal, they're also wondering whether they could have been better informed of the danger in their backyard.

It's been more than five months since the mass shooting in the Hedingham neighborhood killed five people. As the neighborhood and surrounding communities heal, residents also continue to question whether they could have been better informed of the danger in their backyard.

"Someone dropped the ball and we're still unprotected because this is right in our neighborhood. We get AMBER alerts for things happening outside, but this is something that directly involves us and we weren't informed," said Amy Fidelino.

Her yard backs up to the other side of the Neuse River and she said she was planning on taking a walk on the same trail that afternoon. It was only because of a friend inviting her to dinner that she wasn't on the trail at the time of the shooting.

"That's where I was going. That's what I was planning to do. And I think he shot one of the runners who we see there all the time too," she recalled.

She isn't the only one to question the lack of alerts.

"I think we should have had an alert," said nearby resident Janet Buselt. "I think that issue needs to be addressed."

Buselt said she sent out an alert to her neighborhood via Nextdoor.

"I know I saved some people with that," she said.

The I-Team uncovered back in October that local leaders do have the technology and systems in place to send mass alerts to users' phones.

Wake County has an alert system in place, ReadyWake that allows residents to opt-in for notifications about weather and other emergencies.

Local leaders could have also chosen to utilize the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system. WEA notifications are generally automatically enabled on people's cell phones. The state will send out notifications on behalf of counties, but this system was also not utilized during the mass shooting.

"If they are paying subscription service for this software and they aren't using it, they need to do something about that," Buselt said.

Wake County officials said the Raleigh Police Department was the agency that needed to decide to activate the systems.

RELATED | Raleigh police release new details, timeline of the mass shooting that left 5 dead, 2 injured

Back in October, the city's response was "the City will do a comprehensive after-action review of all steps taken during this incident."

Months later, the city denied the release of that report, and city spokesmen ignored questions about the content and ultimately the decision.

"Just be more transparent and work with the community," Buselt asks of local leaders as they learn from this experience. She would like to see more residents involved in solutions going forward.

"They should do better knowing that this happened and people felt so unprotected and uninformed," Fidelino said.

The I-Team reached out to every Raleigh City Council member and the mayor about the lack of alerts and the plan for future incidents; none responded.

The city's lack of transparency comes as gun violence continues to be a threat.

There have been more mass shootings in 2023 than calendar days and eight incidents in North Carolina have already killed 11, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Nationwide, 193 people have been killed and nearly 500 injured in 130 incidents.

As more dangerous situations play out in local communities, people question whether these alerts can be used in more situations.

ABC11 Neighborhood Safety Tracker

Wake County officials shared that 3,701 notifications were sent out in the last year through the county's emergency alert software, Everbridge. Just 44 of those were ReadyWake alerts. TheI-Team analyzed those alerts and found before the mass shooting in Raleigh, almost all the ReadyWake alerts revolved around the weather. Other common situations were for missing children.

However, last month officials did send out several notifications last month when there was a standoff in a Cary neighborhood. That incident was the only time in the last year where alerts were used for 'law enforcement activity', according to the data provided.

To find out what role these emergency alerts can play during mass shootings, the I-Team spoke with Francis Willett with Everybridge, the company Wake County uses for its public warning platform and to send out emergency alerts.

After serving for years in emergency management, Willett said mass alerts are just one tool in first responders' toolbox in creating safety.

"Controlling the message and controlling that unified set of information is now a priority at the table," Willett said.

Through Everbridge, in a matter of a minute, jurisdictions can select how wide of a coverage area to alert, write the message and send it.

"What I can tell people to do is, as it's detected that this is happening. We have the ability to get those lockdown evacuation awareness messages out much faster than they used to be able to do," Willett explained.

While agencies have multiple ways to deliver that message, alerts give a quick way to get accurate information to cellphone users that reduces their chance of picking up wrong information on social media.

"It depends on the situation, obviously, but they still fall back on ultimately those initial messages, in the beginning, are where the most lives are saved," Willett said. "I always find the customers that can do that effectively really help manage incidents better than if they just choose to wait."

Everbridge works with 42 county and local jurisdictions across North Carolina and 17 education systems.

Wake County residents can opt into alerts from ReadyWake via their website.

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