A mistaken missile alert that caused widespread panic and confusion in Hawaii has led to the resignation of the state’s emergency management leader and the firing of the worker who sent the false warning.
Maj. Gen. Joe Logan, the state adjutant general, says Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator Vern Miyagi resigned Tuesday.
The employee who has been fired mistakenly sent an emergency alert to mobile devices and TV and radio stations warning of an incoming missile strike on Jan. 13. Regulators say he mistook a drill for the real thing.
Logan says a second worker has quit before disciplinary action was taken and another is being suspended without pay.
A corrected alert was not sent to mobile devices for nearly 40 minutes because state workers had no prepared message for a false alarm.
“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. There was no requirement to double-check with a colleague or get a supervisor’s approval, he said.
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In addition, software at Hawaii’s emergency agency used the same prompts for both 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 worker, whose name has not been released, has refused to talk to the FCC, but federal regulators got information from his written statement that state officials provided.
The alert was sent to cellphones, TV and radio stations in Hawaii on Jan. 13, leading people to fear the state was under nuclear attack.
The FCC, which regulates the nation’s airwaves and sets standards for such emergency alerts, criticized the state’s delay in correcting it.
The FCC said the state Emergency Management Agency has already taken steps to try to avoid a repeat of the false alert, requiring more supervision of drills and alert and test-alert transmissions. It has created a correction template for false alerts and has stopped ballistic missile defense drills until its own investigation is done.
The employee in question 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.”
The worker did not hear the “exercise, exercise, exercise” part of the message and believed the threat was real, according to the employee’s statement. He responded by sending an alert.