Text alert at state borders discontinued

The "Welcome to Utah" sign is shown Friday, April 10, 2020, in Salt Lake City. Travelers coming into Utah will be required to identify themselves and report any coronavirus symptoms as they arrive, Gov. Gary Herbert said Wednesday, April 8, 2020. Highways will be "geofenced" at the five most common entry points so drivers get a text message through a federal wireless emergency alert system asking them to fill out an online form if they are staying in the state, authorities said. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Emergency Management announced Monday morning it plans to discontinue the use of the Wireless Emergency Alert system to target alerts at Utah’s state line areas.

The program was implemented Friday and was intended to last until May 1 but lasted just three days, after several Utahns and residents of states bordering Utah reported receiving messages when they should not have.

We know that there are a number of residents in the state who received alerts in their homes, their bathrooms, away from the borders,” Department of Emergency Management spokesman Joe Dougherty said in the state’s daily press briefing, adding residents of Colorado, Idaho and Arizona also received messages despite not entering Utah.

“We have compassion for the residents who live well outside of the intended alerting area, some of whom were 80 miles away,” he said. “We heard that some of them received the alert more than 15 times.”

Locally, residents in Franklin County received the alerts even though Utah officials said they were only going to focus on areas near Interstate 84 and Interstate 15 along Northern Utah’s borders.

“I have been at home all today, I have not traveled anywhere today,” Franklin resident Susan Hawkes said on Friday afternoon. “My phone was on the counter all morning. I had (two) text messages sent to me telling me I needed to declare why I was traveling into Utah. I was at home all day, not in the car and my phone was not moving.”

There have also been multiple reports of students at Utah State University, with out-of-state cell phone numbers, receiving the alerts while they were on USU’s campus in Logan.

In place of the cellular alerts, the state will now have signs near each of Utah’s borders directing them to entry.utah.gov, where they will be asked to fill out a survey with their health information in regards to COVID-19.

Motorists will still be informed about the opportunity to fill out a declaration survey, they just will no longer be receiving a wireless emergency alert,” Dougherty said.

Dougherty also said the measure was taken “in good faith” and Utah was the first state to try such a thing.

We had a chance to learn a lot of really important lessons by doing this, such as we learned exactly that these messages will sometimes alert much further than we intended,” he said. ““We were able to reach so many people that we received thousands of responses through the declaration form.”

Everyone entering the state is still asked to fill out the online survey, and Dougherty said the state does not plan to officially enforce responses, but hopes “people will be good public health citizens,” in helping the state trace the roots off and decrease the spread of the coronavirus.

Airline passengers entering the Salt Lake City International Airport will continue to receive a postcard with a QR code and link to the health declaration form.

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