OOPS! ‘Wrong but­ton’ sends out false mis­sile alert

Of­fi­cials vow changes af­ter an alert sys­tem test goes awry, caus­ing 38 min­utes of ter­ror

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By Rob Shik­ina rshik­ina@starad­ver­tiser.com

Af­ter peo­ple across the state were told for months to pre­pare for a pos­si­ble nu­clear at­tack from North Korea, for 38 ter­ri­fy­ing min­utes on Satur­day morn­ing the deadly mo­ment seemed to have ar­rived. A state em­ployee in a Di­a­mond Head bunker clicked his mouse twice and in­formed a mil­lion and a half res­i­dents and tourists that the mis­sile was on its way. “THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” the warn­ing stated.

No, it wasn’t a drill. It was a mis­take. “Hu­man er­ror,” said Gov. David Ige. A mis­take that left many shaken, an­gry and ques­tion­ing the cred­i­bil­ity of their gov­ern­ment.

Tourists in Waikiki were asked to go into the base­ment of their ho­tels, pas­sen­gers at Daniel K. Inouye In­ter­na­tional Air­port were not al­lowed to check in and were sent down to the bag­gage claim area, and fam­i­lies at parks ran to their cars for shelter. Cell­phones were jammed with peo­ple call­ing fam­ily and friends to find out what was go­ing on or sim­ply say a fi­nal good­bye. “To­day is a day most of us will never for­get,” Ige said at a news con­fer­ence in the same Di­a­mond Head bunker from which the fake warn­ing was sent. “A day when many in our com­mu­nity thought that our

worst night­mare might ac­tu­ally be hap­pen­ing.”

He said he was an­gry about what hap­pened, apol­o­gized for the pain and con­fu­sion it sowed, and promised to im­prove the emer­gency man­age­ment sys­tems. The con­fu­sion caused by the hu­man er­ror was com­pounded by a lack of pro­ce­dures in place to re­voke the false alarm, caus­ing the 38-minute de­lay be­fore the state sent out a text cor­rec­tion.

“We are do­ing every­thing we can im­me­di­ately to en­sure that it never hap­pens again,” Ige said. The trou­ble be­gan about 8:05 a.m. when an em­ployee was run­ning through a rou­tine test of the Emer­gency Alert Sys­tem and Wire­less Emer­gency Alert Sys­tem in the Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency head­quar­ters in­side Di­a­mond Head crater.

The wrong but­ton

The em­ployee clicked the wrong but­ton on a com­puter screen, selecting the mis­sile alert mes­sage rather than the test alert that would have sent a mes­sage that stayed within the build­ing. The em­ployee then clicked a sec­ond but­ton to con­firm he wanted to send out the er­ro­neous alert. The em­ploy­ees in the cen­ter did not know that they had is­sued an er­ror un­til they got a phone call from of­fi­cials look­ing for more in­for­ma­tion.

About three min­utes af­ter the alert went out, the head of the Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency, state Ad­ju­tant Maj. Gen. Joe Lo­gan, ver­i­fied with U.S. Pa­cific Com­mand that there was no launch and no­ti­fied Honolulu po­lice. Thir­teen min­utes af­ter the er­ro­neous text, HEMA fi­nally posted to Face­book and Twit­ter that it was a false alarm, but it would take another 25 min­utes for a cor­rec­tion text alert to go out.

Vern Miyagi, ad­min­is­tra­tor for HEMA, said the agency had to wait un­til it re­ceived au­tho­riza­tion from the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency to send out a retraction. The cor­rec­tion was fi­nally sent at 8:45 a.m.

Ige said part of the rea­son for the de­lay was the state didn’t have a process in place to is­sue a can­cel­la­tion and the cor­rec­tion had to be done man­u­ally af­ter re­ceiv­ing fed­eral ap­proval.

The Emer­gency Alert Sys­tem is a na­tional net­work with lo­cal ac­cess for dis­sem­i­nat­ing civil de­fense and emer­gency mes­sages. Cor­rec­tion alerts, how­ever, are not au­tho­rized for the sys­tem, which was the rea­son the state needed fed­eral ap­proval be­fore send­ing the retraction.

Some sirens sound off

Adding to the panic, some mil­i­tary bases vol­un­tar­ily ac­ti­vated their sirens due to the false alarm, said Richard Rapoza, spokesman for HEMA.

Wind­ward Oahu res­i­dent Diane Pizarro said she was at home with her fam­ily when she re­ceived the alert and heard sirens start to go off.

“That gave more cred­i­bil­ity to the text,” she said. “It was sev­eral scary min­utes with our chil­dren, who were ter­ri­fied, be­fore we saw a tweet that it was a false alarm.” Miyagi blamed him­self for the er­ror.

“I ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for this,” he said. “This is my team.”

He said he spent the last few months try­ing to pre­pare the state in the un­likely event of a nu­clear at­tack from North Korea and set up a warn­ing sys­tem.

Miyagi said while he re­grets what hap­pened, it brought aware­ness about what to do and ex­pect in such an at­tack.

“Please keep in mind that again the threat is there,” he said. “If this comes out, you’re only go­ing to have 12 to 13 min­utes of warn­ing for the ac­tual event. Please take this to heart.”

Ige said the mis­sile alert test has been sus­pended un­til pro­ce­dures are re­viewed and mea­sures are taken to pre­vent a re­peat of the er­ror.

In the future, of­fi­cials will re­quire two peo­ple to con­firm the ac­ti­va­tion of the no­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem for tests and ac­tual mis­sile launches, he said. And a can­cel­la­tion com­mand has also been put in place.

Of­fi­cials said a for­mal pre­lim­i­nary re­port of find­ings and cor­rec­tive ac­tions will be is­sued next week.

The Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion said it was launch­ing a “full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into what hap­pened.”

Jes­sica Rosen­wor­cel, an FCC com­mis­sioner, said, “Emer­gency alerts are meant to keep us and our fam­i­lies safe, not to cre­ate false panic. We must in­ves­ti­gate and we must do bet­ter.”

Politi­cians speak up

Hawaii’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion and state law­mak­ers were quick to add their voices to the grow­ing cho­rus of of­fi­cials call­ing Satur­day’s mis­take un­ac­cept­able, and pledged to in­ves­ti­gate what went wrong.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard was among the first peo­ple to start alert­ing the pub­lic via Twit­ter that the emer­gency warn­ing was a false alarm, say­ing at 8:19 a.m. that she had con­firmed with of­fi­cials there was no in­com­ing mis­sile.

She later tweeted, “Our lead­ers have failed us for decades, re­fused to take this threat se­ri­ously and pre­vent a nu­clear North Korea, and the peo­ple of Hawaii are now pay­ing the price.”

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said in an in­ter­view from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has failed to ease ten­sions with North Korea, putting Hawaii in dan­ger. “The ten­sions be­tween the United States and North Korea are not help­ing at all, which is one of the rea­sons that the state of Hawaii has to even at­tempt to do its best to be pre­pared for a po­ten­tial mis­sile strike,” Hirono said. “The goal should be to pre­vent th­ese mis­sile strikes from hap­pen­ing to be­gin with. That means that we need to strengthen our diplo­matic route to cre­at­ing sta­bil­ity in the Korean Penin­sula.”

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a mem­ber of the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee and can­di­date for gov­er­nor, who was on Oahu on Satur­day, said she plans to ini­ti­ate the con­gres­sional in­quiry process when she gets back to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., on Tues­day.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, who was also in Honolulu when he got the alert, said what hap­pened was “to­tally in­ex­cus­able.”

“This false alarm caused real harm across the state. Peo­ple were in tears, peo­ple were shel­ter­ing in place, busi­nesses were shut­tered, no­body knew what to do. But more than that, we need to be able to rely on our emer­gency no­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tem so that when we see or hear ‘this is not a test,’ we need to be able to rely on that 100 per­cent,” he said. Lead­er­ship in the state House and Se­nate pledged to in­ves­ti­gate the in­ci­dent. A joint in­for­ma­tional brief­ing has been sched­uled for Fri­day be­fore the Se­nate Gov­ern­ment Op­er­a­tions and Pub­lic Safety, In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal and Mil­i­tary Af­fairs com­mit­tees, and the House Pub­lic Safety Com­mit­tee.

To­day is a day most of us will never for­get. A day when many in our com­mu­nity thought that our worst night­mare might ac­tu­ally be hap­pen­ing.” Gov. David Ige At a news con­fer­ence in the same Di­a­mond Head bunker from which the false alarm was sent


At least three dozen peo­ple turned out on a side­walk on Ala Moana Boule­vard in front of the Prince Kuhio Fed­eral Build­ing on Satur­day to wave anti-war signs, shout­ing, “No nukes, no ex­cuse.” Karolina Turska, left, held a sign re­peat­ing the chant, while Pat Bent­ley, hold­ing her dog, Chica, dis­played her “Glut­ton with the But­ton” sign.

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