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A day after Capitol lockdown, Maryland official says text-message alert system has been in the works

Police officers are seen during a lockdown of the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Md. on Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. The building was locked down for an undisclosed security threat. (AP Photo/Brian Witte.)

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland signed a contract this week to create a text-message alert system for the grounds of the Capitol, lawmakers said Friday, a day after the historic building was put on lockdown when an anonymous phone threat was received and police responded with guns drawn.

The state entered into an agreement with Motorola for a Rave alert system on Monday, Senate President Bill Ferguson told reporters. Ferguson said he had been in discussion with House Speaker Adrienne Jones about creating an alert system for some time.

“In any situation the most important thing is to clear lines of communication, and I’m incredibly proud of the response that happened, but there were a lot of lessons learned,” Ferguson said.

The Maryland State House was locked down for about two hours Thursday from just before 5 p.m. until almost 7 p.m. after an anonymous phone threat was made, but officials said no signs of suspicious activity were found and later allowed people back inside.

People inside the Capitol were told by word of mouth to shelter in place. Journalists inside saw police with guns drawn search inside, before reporters were led out after about 30 minutes with police guidance.

Ferguson said the alert system would be able to send text messages out in a moment to people who sign up to receive them. It also would have geofencing to send text messages to phones in the area. He said he hoped the system would be in place by the end of the state's legislative session in April.

“Do I wish we had it yesterday? Of course, and we learned an important lesson that we have places where we can improve,” Ferguson said.

The Senate president also noted that bomb threats were sent to state capitols in early January, including in Maryland. Federal officials quickly dismissed the threats as a hoax.

“This is the sad reality of what we have to deal with, and we have to be able to respond appropriately," Ferguson said. "Law enforcement did a remarkable job. There was never a moment yesterday where I felt unsafe. It was a surreal experience, but I was very confident that plans were in place.”

Jones said during the House's Friday session that the state has been working with the Maryland Office of Information systems “for quite a while” on putting a text-alert system in place for the complex.

“We'll continue our efforts to improve coordination and communication based on yesterday's experience,” Jones said. “With that, let's get back to business.”

Brian Witte, The Associated Press

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