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Fake, Apocalyptic Emergency Alert Takes Over TVs In Orange County

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Some TV viewers in Orange County got a jolt Thursday morning when a bizarre emergency alert—one with apocalyptic overtones—took over the regular broadcast.

As reported at the OC Register, the emergency alert was seen by some customers of Spectrum and Cox Communications. Stacy Laflamme, a Lake Forest resident, said she was watching HGTV via Cox Communications when the alert took over her screen at around 11:05 a.m. “It almost sounded like Hitler talking,” Laflamme told the OC Register. “It sounded like a radio broadcast coming through the television.” Another viewer who used Spectrum said that the “volume increased exponentially.” The alert lasted about a minute before returning to the regular broadcast.

Videos of the alert were posted up on YouTube:

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As noted at Gizmodo, the messages in the above footage come from previously recorded material. The above video, in which a voice warns that “extremely violent times will come,” seems to originate from the Christian radio program Insight for Living with Chuck Swindoll. The voice in the bottom video, in which a man talks frantically about a government conspiracy at Area 51, comes from a 1997 installment of the radio show Coast to Coast AM, which focuses on conspiracy theories and the paranormal. A commenter on the Gizmodo article noted that this same audio clip was used in the Tool track, "Faaip De Oiad".

So, is it time to hole up in your underground bunker? Todd Smith, a spokesperson at Cox Communications, says that’s perhaps premature, as the alert wasn’t real. “The good news is this is not War of the Worlds and there is no cause for actual alarm. We apologize for the confusion it may have caused and temporary interruption to regular programming,” Smith said in an email to LAist.

Smith explained that the bizarre message stemmed from a (real) monthly emergency test. “A radio station (or radio stations) was conducting a monthly emergency test. With these tests, an emergency ‘tone’ is sent out to [initiate] the test. After the ‘tone’ is transmitted, another ‘tone’ is sent to ‘end’ the message. It appears that the radio station (or radio stations) did not transmit the end ‘tone’ to complete the test,” Smith wrote. Without the end tone, this presented a window in which the broadcast picked up an audio feed that fed into the alert, says the OC Register.

Though, it still remains unclear who originally sent out the alert, and where the later audio feed came from. “We are still trying to determine where the originating signal came from,” said Smith, adding that the company doesn’t know how many customers in total were affected.

The emergency alert was somewhat reminiscent of a 1987 incident in which a masked man—dressed to resemble 80s icon (and former Coke spokesperson) Max Headroom—hijacked the broadcast at TV stations in Chicago. The identity of the perpetrator was never uncovered.