Ou­traged cit­i­zens could take it out on Gov. Ige in the up­com­ing elec­tion

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Day­ton kday­ton@starad­ver­tiser.com

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.

GE­ORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARAD­VER­TISER.COM

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.

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