Emer­gency leader re­signs in Hawaii

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NATIONAL - AU­DREY MCAVOY

HONOLULU — Hawaii’s emer­gency man­age­ment leader has re­signed and a state em­ployee who sent an alert falsely warn­ing of an in­com­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile has been fired, of­fi­cials said Tues­day, weeks af­ter the mis­take caused wide­spread panic.

Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Vern Miyagi stepped down Tues­day, state Ad­ju­tant Gen­eral Maj. Gen. Joe Lo­gan said. A sec­ond agency worker quit be­fore dis­ci­plinary ac­tion was taken and an­other was be­ing sus­pended without pay, Lo­gan said in an­nounc­ing the re­sults of an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The fall­out came the same day the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion re­vealed that the worker who pushed out the alert thought an ac­tual at­tack was im­mi­nent. It was the first in­di­ca­tion the Jan. 13 alert was pur­posely sent, adding an­other level of con­fu­sion to the mis­step that left res­i­dents and tourists be­liev­ing their lives were about to end.

The state emer­gency agency worker be­lieved the at­tack was real be­cause of a mis­take in how the drill was ini­ti­ated dur­ing a shift change, the FCC said in a re­port. The worker said he didn’t hear the word “ex­er­cise” re­peated six times even though oth­ers did.

There was no re­quire­ment to dou­ble-check with a col­league or get a su­per­vi­sor’s ap­proval be­fore send­ing the blast to cell­phones, TV and ra­dio sta­tions statewide, the agency said.

“There were no pro­ce­dures in place to pre­vent a sin­gle per­son from mis­tak­enly send­ing a mis­sile alert” in Hawaii, said James Wi­ley, a cy­ber­se­cu­rity and com­mu­ni­ca­tions re­li­a­bil­ity em­ployee at the FCC.

The worker, who was fired Friday and whose name has not been re­vealed, has con­fused real-life events and drills in the past, the state said in a re­port. His poor per­for­mance has been doc­u­mented for years.

The em­ployee heard a recorded mes­sage that be­gan by say­ing “ex­er­cise, ex­er­cise, ex­er­cise” — the script for a drill, the FCC said. Then the record­ing used lan­guage that is typ­i­cally used for a real threat, not a drill: “This is not a drill.” The record­ing ended by say­ing “ex­er­cise, ex­er­cise, ex­er­cise.”

Once the em­ployee sent the false alert, he was directed to send a can­cel mes­sage but in­stead “just sat there and didn’t re­spond,” ac­cord­ing to the state’s re­port on its in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Later, an­other em­ployee took over the com­puter and sent the cor­rec­tion be­cause the worker “seemed con­fused.”

Com­pound­ing the is­sues was that the agency lacked any prepa­ra­tion in how to cor­rect the false alert. The fed­eral agency, which reg­u­lates the na­tion’s air­waves and sets stan­dards for such emer­gency alerts, crit­i­cized the state’s de­lay in cor­rect­ing it.

In ad­di­tion, soft­ware at Hawaii’s emer­gency agency used the same prompts for both test and ac­tual alerts, and it gen­er­ally used pre­pared text that made it easy for a worker to click through the alert­ing process without fo­cus­ing enough on the text of the warn­ing that would be sent.

The FCC said the state Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency has al­ready taken steps to try to avoid a re­peat of the false alert, re­quir­ing more su­per­vi­sion of drills and alert and test-alert trans­mis­sions.

In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Tali Ar­bel of The As­so­ci­ated Press.


Driv­ers on the H-1 Free­way in Honolulu are ad­vised Jan. 13 that a warn­ing ear­lier that day about a bal­lis­tic mis­sile head­ing their way was in­cor­rect.

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