Alaskans watching television or listening to the radio Friday morning got a startling message: an alert that a tsunami could be on the way to the entire West Coast, including Alaska.

That warning, however, was just a test that was never meant to go out to the public.

Jeremy Zidek, with the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said the message originated from the Tsunami Warning Center in Palmer -- which considered it a routine test, designed to stay within the system. But Zidek said it was somehow picked up by the Emergency Alert System, which in turn passed it along to local broadcasters.

Rosemary Dunn, in Anchorage, said she was more curious than panicked when the warning came through.

"I couldn't find any earthquakes and was really perplexed," she said.

She went online to find out that the warning wasn't real.

"They said it was misinterpreted. I'd really like to know what's behind that, who misinterpreted that," she said.

Officials are still trying to figure out how that happened.

"There's the possibility that there was human error with the system and it was encoded improperly," Zidek said. "But there's also the possibility that the system didn't perform as designed. And that's what we are working through right now, trying to determine exactly what happened and why this message went out to the general public when it was intended to be an internal message."

Zidek said in some areas, the word "test" appeared on the screen after a lengthy warning message, but in others the word was not included in either the print or audio portion of the message. That led many people to believe the warning was real.

"Thankfully we were able to catch that fairly quickly and notify communities that there was no tsunami warning," Zidek said. "So we didn't see any type of evacuations, activations of local sirens or any of the other steps that would go along with the tsunami warning."

The warning did not go out to the Wireless Emergency Alert System, Zidek said, so people never saw it on their cell phones like a January message from Hawaii officials falsely warning of an incoming ballistic missile. It also wasn't broadcast on NOAA weather station frequencies.

And while the warning included the entire West Coast, people in California, Oregon and Washington didn't see it either -- it only went out to Alaskans.

Zidek added that false alerts are unfortunate, but aren't a reason to disregard emergency alerts in the future. He said it's important that people continue to take them seriously.

"We want to get people out of harm's way when these events happen, so it's incredibly important that people do listen to these emergency alerts, the wireless alerts and NOAA weather radio and respond appropriately when these warning messages come through," Zidek said.

Zidek said in a real emergency people may only have a few minutes to respond before disaster strikes.

Melissa Frye and Liz Thomas contributed information to this story.

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