Sent at 1.30am and titled "Emergency Alert", many people received a rude awakening — quite literally — when the New Zealand Civil Defence accidentally sent a test emergency alert.
Three emergency alert messages accompanied by a loud sound were sent in error this morning — two nationwide and one to people near Auckland — causing many New Zealanders to wake in fright.
It was not until they read the alerts closely that people realised they were only test messages.
The director of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management (MCDEM), Sarah Stuart-Black, apologised for the error.
She said the alerts would have caused significant alarm because they were "not a normal text message sound".
"I know it would have been alarming to have been woken like this," she said.
"It's designed to make a noise that really gets your attention and for that reason it would have given people a real fright being woken from a deep sleep by such a noise not understanding what the purpose of this was."
The alerts were only sent to Vodafone customers and although how many people received the alerts is unclear, the company, which has about 2.5 million customers in New Zealand, said "many" of its customers received the messages.
'Heart still racing'
The alerts left many on social media unhappy, while others took it in their stride as a clear sign the alerts would wake them in the event of a real emergency.
"Is NZ Civil Defence waking the entire phone-carrying population of NZ at 1.30 am, or just me and my partner? Heart still racing. Grrrr!" Greg O'Beirne wrote on Twitter.
MCDEM said "the very inconvenient hour" was due to the message being sent by their European-based service provider.
Emergency alerts by text message will be rolled out later in the year — to warn the public of serious threats like tsunamis, wildfires, armed offenders, or seriously contaminated drinking water — and Wednesday's alerts were testing the technology being developed.
"We are aware that some early testing is happening, and unfortunately a number of the public's phones have picked up these tests at an inconvenient hour," MCDEM said.
"We apologise to those who have been inconvenienced, and will request all testing is carried out during daylight hours in future."