CHICAGO (CBS) — Twice this week, frantic alerts were released about missile launches, with the latest happening in Japan.

Thankfully, both turned out to be false alarms, but it got CBS 2 wondering about emergency alerts in our area. Emergency officials in Will County gave CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole a first-hand look.

The systems alerting us to weather dangers, such as a tornado, are similar to those that would be activated for an incoming missile attack.

“Severe weather is a really good example of how it’s a federal responsibility,” said Harold Damron, Will County Emergency Management Director.

When tornadoes approach, the Federal National Weather Service can issue warnings to cell phones, but the outdoor warning sirens we hear are activated locally, coordinated in Illinois on the county level in command centers.

“It’s really a partnership between federal, state and local agencies,” Damron said.

In a multi-county threat, operators distribute additional hyper-local text or email warnings, and activate broadcast alerts, like the red bar across a television screen.

“Much of the warning would happen at the federal level,” Damron said. “There is not one single button.”

Broadcast officials in Japan apologized for sending out a missile alert, which they were able to retract within minutes.

CBS: Do you have the ability to retract an alert?

“We do have the ability to send out a subsequent message that says it was a mistake or a false alarm,” Damron said.

Hawaii officials say their weekend alert took 38 minutes to correct because their computer screen did not have a quick link to issue a correction. The incident has professionals reviewing their own warning systems, and urging the public to be ready to take action.

“You can have the best warning in the world, but you have to couple that with action to protect yourself,” Damron said.

He also said various agencies use similar, but not identical software to activate alerts. There is talk in the industry now about establishing a nationwide, or even world, standard.

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