Outraged citizens could take it out on Gov. Ige in the upcoming election
Frightened people are sometimes angry people, and there was plenty of outrage following Saturday’s false missile attack alert and the official response to it. That raises questions about potential political fallout for Gov. David Ige as he campaigns for re-election this year, and for Ige, the timing was bad.
The frightening false alarm won’t soon be forgotten, and both state and federal lawmakers are planning inquiries into what went wrong Saturday. That might keep the issue in the public eye for months leading up to the August primary election.
Most people rarely think about emergency preparedness systems, but they expect and demand that those systems work properly, which obviously didn’t happen. The Saturday incident was traumatic.
A chorus of state and federal politicians immediately described the false alarm and the delay in calling it off as “unacceptable,” but it is uncertain whether the blame for the failure will be placed entirely on Ige.
The political fallout might depend on people’s perceptions of the response to the false alarm. U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said people were panicked, and there is a need for “personal and personnel accountability.”
“I can’t imagine any circumstance where people wouldn’t be losing their jobs over this, and I hate to say it because I know folks work really hard, but this is bigger than anybody’s individual sit- uation. This is about the whole state, and this has got to be addressed,” Schatz said.
Jerry Burris, an author and longtime Honolulu political columnist, said that no matter how thoroughly the state investigates the incident and moves to prevent a recurrence, there is no “win” here for Ige. On the other hand, Burris said he does not expect Ige’s opponents will be able to capitalize on the incident. “I don’t see why people would blame him,” Burris said. “He’s ultimately responsible for it, and he shouldn’t duck that responsibility,” but Ige can and should pledge to fix the problem, Burris said.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a member of the House Armed Services Committee who is running against Ige for governor, said
in a news release, “We need to understand how a serious error like this happened.” She called for a “thorough, impartial investigation at the state and federal level.” “We cannot have our residents and visitors running around in chaos for more than half an hour,” Hanabusa said. “The panic and fear created by this false alarm was dangerous and irresponsible.” Keith DeMello, a spokesman for the Hanabusa campaign, said, “This isn’t about politics. It’s about public safety.”
The anger generated by the false alarm spread to Hawaii island. Big Island Mayor Harry Kim released a radio message to try to reassure the public that it was a false alarm, and began answering some of the phone calls that poured into Hawaii County Civil Defense. One of the callers was enraged that Kim had failed to identify himself in the radio message, and wanted to know why.
“His words to me, very angry, were, ‘You are toast. I guarantee that you are toast. I will ensure that you are out of there,’” Kim said. Kim ran the Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency for more than 20 years before he was elected mayor, and said, “I have a lot of confidence we will address this. I have a lot of confidence we will identify what went wrong.”
Still, he said there is no way to absolutely guarantee there will never be another false alarm. The warning sirens along Hawaii island shorelines malfunction and wail from time to time, and human and mechanical failures will continue to happen. “You just never know,” he said.
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi, left, and Gov. David Ige faced a barrage of questions from the media Saturday at the Hawaii Emergency Management Center at Diamond Head.