By Raiza Giorgi

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s officials say they are closely reviewing their emergency notification system for possible changes after an alert on Dec. 19 caused concern and confusion throughout the county.

The alert about the pursuit of an armed robbery suspect was relevant only in parts of Goleta and Santa Barbara.

“The information on this alert was accurate and timely; however, due to an error was sent to a much larger area than intended or needed. We will make every effort to include the location in the future to limit any confusion,” said Kelly Hoover, spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.

Dozens of social media comments and responses followed in the hours after the incident Dec. 19.

“It appears to have been an operator error. The alert system default is the entire county. When the alert area was drawn on the map, it did not save correctly per the session protocols, so it defaulted to the county-wide notification,” Hoover said.

The suspect, identified as Michael McCann, 46, of Montecito, was originally pulled over the night of Dec. 18 but fled from deputies, according to the Sheriff’s Office. McCann was then observed stopping and running from his vehicle at 4:31 p.m. on Dec. 19. He was considered armed and dangerous, so the decision was made to send out an alert.

The dispatcher had drawn the map of the affected area and sent the alert at 4:34 p.m., when the suspect was still at large and running through a neighborhood. He was taken into custody near Bishop Diego High School at 4:35 p.m., according to Hoover. A cancellation alert was sent at 4:50 p.m.

The alert was appropriate, Hoover added, because the suspect was considered armed and dangerous, was in the area of residences and two schools, had driven on a bike path and in the breakdown lanes on the highway, and almost caused at least one traffic accident.

 “People will stop taking action from these alerts if they don’t improve notifying the impacted area,” said Beverly Andersen on the SYV Emergency News and Reporting page.

“They really need to fix this! My wife and son terrified as the last time this went down we had a guy shot to death just blocks away after he invaded a woman’s mobile home. Heard every gunshot go down. How about not freak out an entire county with a warning of something that is going down 30 miles away! Annoying as I was away from home with wife and son freaking out. Let’s figure out how to send update warnings in the appropriate area instead of a blanket warning,” said Phil O’Neill on the Facebook SYV Chat room.

In November, emergency-services managers gave an update to the Board of Supervisors on the county’s Aware & Prepare alerts and other notification methods, including Wireless Emergency Alerting (WEA) messages.

Only 12 percent of people countywide, or 52,850 residents, are signed up to receive emergency alerts, according to Assistant County Executive Officer Terri Nisich. About 10 percent of residents are signed up for Nixle alerts at

Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann called the 12 percent registration rate abysmal, and county leaders hope to boost that number by using utility company account information to automatically sign up people for alerts, which recent legislation approved.

Residents can register for Aware & Prepare emergency alerts from Santa Barbara County by visiting the website or and click on the red button that states, “Register for Alerts.”

To confirm registration for Aware & Prepare, visit the website or Click on the hyperlink below the red “Register for Alerts” button to get to the login page.

The Nixle system sends 138-character messages, and residents can sign up by texting their ZIP code to the number 888777.


Noozhawk Managing Editor Giana Magnoli contributed to this story.