Capitol’s emergency alert system worries lawmakers

Capitol’s emergency alert system worries lawmakers

Members of the Maryland Senate applaud the work of law enforcement Friday morning after Thursday’s security threat to the capitol (Angelique Gingras/Capital News Service)

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By ANGELIQUE GINGRAS

Capital News Service

ANNAPOLIS  – A day after a threat to the state capitol prompted a near two-hour lockdown, lawmakers applauded the quick work of law enforcement but raised concerns about efficient communication.

Sen. Antonio Hayes, D-Baltimore City, said he was voting in a Finance Committee meeting when a member of the press texted him about a security threat to the State House. A few minutes later, a state trooper in the room notified committee members to shelter in place, before they were escorted out of the building.

“I wish I would have gotten a text message internally before I got one externally, but I think just given the series of events, it is what it is,” said Hayes.

Capital News Service covered the incident, which began around 5 p.m. Thursday when an anonymous call was made to the Annapolis City Police Department threatening to target the state capitol. After nearly two hours of lockdown, the Maryland Capitol Police determined there was no evidence of a potential threat.

The Senate and House of Delegates convened Friday, each opening their floor sessions with a standing ovation for the law enforcement officers who sprang into action.

“Yesterday was certainly a very scary moment for many, a very intense moment, but a moment when our first responders did everything that they were supposed to do and kept everyone safe, followed protocol and really responded to a very intense situation appropriately,” Senate President Bill Ferguson, D-Baltimore County, told reporters Friday.

Capital News Service reached out to a spokesperson for the Department of General Services, which oversees the Maryland Capitol Police, who provided no comment on the communication efforts by law enforcement.

“The one thing you can’t have happen is, you don’t want to over alert or over alarm the people you’re trying to protect,” said Sen. Will Folden, R-Frederick, who also serves as an active duty police officer in the city of Frederick. “It’s a necessary element to only provide absolutely necessary information to not create panic.”

The incident occurred just days after the General Assembly signed a contract with Motorola to incorporate a text message alert system for state officials in the State House complex, according to Ferguson. That system is still being built, he said, and was not in use at the time of the threat.

“Within the structure we have right now, (state troopers) did an amazing job. I think we all would like a world in which we had a text service to keep us informed.” said Sen. Sarah Elfreth, D-Anne Arundel.

Hayes added: “I didn’t even realize that we were in the middle of negotiating a text messaging contract, which I think would have been helpful.”

While it isn’t clear when the alert system will be up and running, lawmakers expressed gratitude for police efforts yesterday.

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Capital News Service is a student-powered news organization run by the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism. With bureaus in Annapolis and Washington run by professional journalists with decades of experience, they deliver news in multiple formats via partner news organizations and a destination Website.

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