WSDOT says emergency alert in SR 99 tunnel was an error

SEATTLE – The Washington State Department of Transportation says an employee made an error when an operator accidentally triggered an evacuation warning for drivers inside Seattle’s new SR 99 underground tunnel Thursday morning.

WSDOT says an employee was trying to manage a stalled vehicle when they accidentally sent an alert over AM and FM airwaves alerting drivers to flee the tunnel.

The warning left some drivers feeling confused and scared.

“It shouldn’t have happened and we’re sorry about that,” said spokesperson Bart Treece.

The new tunnel could be one of state’s most tech-forward highways but no matter the technology, humans can always bring forward an opportunity to make a mistake.

One driver shared his experience on Twitter, saying "It was really confusing and scary," while messages on his radio repeated, "turn off engine and evacuate tunnel immediately."

While nobody traveling inside the tunnel at the time followed the instructions, WSDOT says the operator working the controls messed up.

The tunnel is packed full of safety features, including cameras, sprinklers, powerful fans to remove smoke and segmented emergency zones where operators can focus resources.

While WSDOT says their operator mistakenly chose the incorrect protocol to handle the stalled vehicle in the tunnel, there was no need for drivers to heed the radio warning.

“If there’s a higher severity incident, they may have additional instructions for people in the tunnel to exit their vehicle and evacuate the tunnel,” said Treece. “That message went on in addition to our usual protocols for a stalled vehicle. It shouldn’t have happened.”