School rumors tend to spread quickly on social media. But when "Three Mile Island," "emergency," and "evacuation" are mentioned, gossip graduates to higher attention.
Chief of Police for Derry Township Patrick O'Rourke was alerted Tuesday morning about several messages circulating on social media involving those descript words.
"We take anything with TMI very seriously," he said. "When the message was associated with evacuations, then we had to get out in front of it."
Police are investigating whether foul play was involved in the circulation of pre-prepared school district messages. Derry Township School District spokesperson Dan Tredinnick said a screen-capture of an official two-hour delay message spread on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. District officials immediately initiated automatic phone calls to parents/guardians to notify them there was no delay, and school was indeed starting on time.
The statement below from the superintendent's office was posted on the district website:
"Derry Township School District has uncovered a flaw in its web site that allowed search engines to access prepared statements the district would use—if needed—for time sensitive communications such as a schedule change or a campus evacuation.
While these notifications were not actively posted for public viewing, the use of certain search terms resulted in these messages being included in some search engine results. Upon becoming aware of this problem, the district took immediate action to preclude this from occurring.
We regret any confusion this may have caused.
In the event of an emergency or school schedule change, information is relayed directly from the district via our high speed messaging system. Such information would also be posted prominently on the homepage of the district web site and shared with local media. Information from unofficial sources should be treated with skepticism and verified before being acted upon."
Tredinnick also spoke with abc27 on Tuesday to explain in further detail what happened.
"If people entered the proper search term, they could access messages that were never [intended] to be made public," he said.
It is unclear at this time who was able to access the district's pre-prepared emergency statements, or for how long. Tredinnick said only a handful of students were late using the two-hour delay as an excuse. District officials said the so-called "flaw" has since been fixed.
Tredinnick said one reason for the glitch could be a recent update involving the district's website provider.
"One of the things we're doing is working with our technical staff, if during that update [...] might be where the change took place, because technically even the search engine should not be able to access them," said Tredinnick. "It should be completely offline."
Police continue to investigate. Chief O'Rourke said criminal charges could be filed pending results of the investigation.
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