New de­tails add to fall­out

Worker who sent false mis­sile alert had prob­lems but kept job; HEMA ad­min­is­tra­tor re­signs

Hawaii Tribune Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By AU­DREY McAVOY

HONOLULU — State emer­gency man­age­ment of­fi­cials knew for years that an em­ployee had prob­lems per­form­ing his job. Then, he sent a false alert warn­ing of an im­mi­nent mis­sile at­tack ear­lier this month.

The worker mis­tak­enly thought drills for tsunami and fire warn­ings were ac­tual events, and col­leagues were not com­fort­able work­ing with him, the state said Tues­day. His su­per­vi­sors coun­seled him but kept him for a decade in a po­si­tion that had to be re­newed each year.

The prob­lems in the Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency went be­yond one trou­bled em­ployee. The agency had a vague check­list for mis­sile alerts, al­low­ing work­ers to in­ter­pret the steps they should fol­low dif­fer­ently. Man­agers didn’t re­quire a sec­ond per­son to sign off on alerts be­fore they were sent, and the agency lacked any prepa­ra­tion on how to cor­rect a false warn­ing.

Those de­tails emerged Tues­day in fed­eral and state re­ports in­ves­ti­gat­ing how the agency mis­tak­enly blasted cell­phones and broad­cast sta­tions Jan. 13 with a

warn­ing that led hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple to think they were about to die in a nu­clear at­tack. It took nearly 40 min­utes to re­tract it.

Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Vern Miyagi re­signed as the re­ports were re­leased. Of­fi­cials re­vealed that the em­ployee who sent the alert was fired Fri­day. His name has not been re­vealed. A sec­ond worker quit be­fore dis­ci­plinary ac­tion was taken, and an­other was be­ing sus­pended with­out pay, of­fi­cials said.

“The pro­to­cols were not in place. It was a sense of ur­gency to put it in place as soon as pos­si­ble. But those pro­to­cols were not de­vel­oped to the point they should have,” said re­tired Brig. Gen. Bruce Oliveira, who wrote the re­port about Hawaii’s in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, dur­ing a news con­fer­ence.

A Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion re­port re­vealed Tues­day that the worker who pushed out the alert thought an ac­tual at­tack was im­mi­nent. It was the first in­di­ca­tion the alert was pur­posely sent, adding an­other level of con­fu­sion to the mis­step that cre­ated panic at a time of fear about the threat of North Korean mis­siles.

The worker thought there was a real at­tack be­cause of a mis­take in how the drill was ini­ti­ated dur­ing a shift change, ac­cord­ing to the FCC, which reg­u­lates the na­tion’s air­waves and sets stan­dards for such emer­gency alerts. The em­ployee said he didn’t hear the word “ex­er­cise” re­peated six times, though others clearly heard it.

There was no re­quire­ment to dou­ble-check with a col­league or get a su­per­vi­sor’s ap­proval be­fore send­ing the warn­ing statewide, the fed­eral 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 staffer at the FCC.

Com­pound­ing the is­sue was that the state Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency had no pre­pared mes­sage for a false alarm. The FCC crit­i­cized the state’s 38-minute de­lay in cor­rect­ing it.

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

“The re­ports from the FCC and the state of Hawaii demon­strate sys­tems and judg­ment fail­ures on mul­ti­ple lev­els, and they re­in­force my be­lief that mis­sile alerts should be han­dled by the fed­eral govern­ment,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Demo­crat, who plans leg­is­la­tion to give fed­eral of­fi­cials that sole re­spon­si­bil­ity.

The FCC said the state emer­gency agency has taken steps to try to avoid a re­peat of the false alert, re­quir­ing more su­per­vi­sion of drills and alert and test-alert trans­mis­sions. It cre­ated a cor­rec­tion tem­plate for false alerts and stopped bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­fense drills for now.

Ear­lier this month, the worker who sent the alert 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,” the state re­port said. Later, an­other em­ployee took over the com­puter and sent the cor­rec­tion be­cause the worker “seemed con­fused.”

Gov. David Ige was asked why the state didn’t re­veal de­tails about the em­ployee ear­lier, and he said it would have been ir­re­spon­si­ble to re­lease state­ments be­fore the in­ves­ti­ga­tion was com­plete.

Ige asked the Hawaii Na­tional Guard’s deputy com­man­der to pre­pare an­other re­port about what needs to be changed in the emer­gency man­age­ment sys­tem over­all. The first ver­sion of that re­port is due in two weeks, with a fi­nal ver­sion due in six weeks.

As­so­ci­ated Press file photo

Then-Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Vern Miyagi lis­tens Jan. 19 dur­ing a hear­ing with state law­mak­ers in Honolulu about the mis­taken mis­sile alert in Honolulu.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Gov. David Ige speaks Tues­day in Honolulu dur­ing a news con­fer­ence about the state’s mis­taken mis­sile alert re­port.

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