False alarm sends entire state into panic


NOT A DRILL — Hi-EMA sent out a mass
emergency alert to
the residents of Hawaii to inform dangers of ballistic missile attack. Less than an hour later, a follow-up message was sent again to inform the people of their mistake. (ABC News)

On Saturday Jan. 13, the entire state of Hawaii filled with panic as residents and tourists of the area received a threatening alert of a ballistic missile inbound through an alert system. This threat lasted a whole 38 minutes before a follow-up notification was delivered to notify that the alert was a false alarm. Panicked residents were left spending their whole morning taking cover in bathtubs and basements, waiting for a threat that never came.

Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard and Governor David Ige were quick to respond to the initial alert via Twitter, Facebook and other social media. The Hi-EMA (Emergency Management Agency) team had to wait to permit FEMA Integral Public Alert and Warning System’s authorization to send their second alert to report, “False Alarm. There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii.”

Governor Ige told CNN officials that human error caused the alert to go out. “It was a mistake made during a standard procedure at the change over of a shift, and an employee pushed the wrong button,” said Ige.

Gov. Ige and Hi-EMA Administrator Vern Miyagi were the first to publically apologize during an afternoon press conference. “I deeply apologize for the trouble and heartbreak we caused today,” said Miyagi. “This is my team. We made a mistake. We are going to process this and study this to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Miyagi, who is a retired Army two-star general, explained that a member on his team accidently sent the alert. He was clicking through several layers of pages on the computer screen that were purposely added for security to prevent such a mistake. He clarified that his team conducts a routine internal test that involves the Emergency Alert System and the Wireless Emergency Alert at the beginning of each shift.

Since Saturday afternoon, Miyagi confirmed that Hi-EMA will now require a two-person verification to send alerts and launch real missile alerts. Additionally, they have created a cancellation protocol that can be initiated within seconds.

“I know firsthand what happened today was totally unacceptable and many in our community were deeply affected by this,” Gov. Ige told reporters. “I’m sorry for that pain and confusion that anyone might have experienced. I’m, too, very angry and disappointed this happened. We are doing everything we can immediately to ensure it never happens again.”

Overall, how can residents be reassured of an accurate warning in future terms? For missile related instances, real launches are immediately detected by satellites that discern the infrared signature right off the launching pad. U.S. Strategic and Pacific Commands are able to track, verify and analyze this occurrence and provide the data to civil authorities. Hawaii’s emergency management system cannot process this function on its own and would need to rely on the military’s verification and analysis of the danger.

William Perry, former Defense Secretary, tweeted Saturday, “This risk of accidental nuclear war is not hypothetical–accidents have happened in the past, and humans will make errors again. When the lives of millions are at risk, we must do more than just hope that mistakes won’t happen.”

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