The Hawaii employee who sent out a false alarm earlier this month warning of an incoming missile attack had a troubled work history and said he misunderstood a drill and believed a ballistic missile was actually heading for the state, according to state and federal investigators.
The employee’s work history was detailed by a state investigation made public Tuesday that found he had “been a source of concern … for over 10 years” to his coworkers. On at least two other occasions, that probe found, this employee also “confused real life events and drills.”
A federal investigation released earlier Tuesday said the employee believed there “was a real emergency, not a drill” when he sent out the Jan. 13 alert that terrified Hawaiian residents. This contradicted the explanations previously offered by Hawaii officials, who have said the alert was sent because an employee hit the wrong button on a drop-down menu.
The cellphone alert sent to Hawaii residents set off waves of panic across the state, coming as heightened tensions with North Korea have fueled fears of nuclear attacks on the United States. To make matters worse, the alarming message blaring “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” went uncorrected for an agonizing 38 minutes.
Authorities were apologetic after what Gov. David Ige (D) had called “a terrifying day when our worst nightmares appeared to become a reality.” Ige and other officials on Tuesday released the findings of an internal state investigation into the incident and pledged that they had made changes to the state’s emergency management agency.
The employee, who was fired last week, has not been identified, and state officials said his name will only be officially released once he finishes appealing the disciplinary action.
Authorities did identify one state employee who lost their job over what happened: Vern T. Miyagi, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, resigned Tuesday morning and “has taken full responsibility” for the incident, said Maj. Gen. Joe Logan, the state adjutant general, who oversees the agency.
The state report released Tuesday described the employee who sent out the alert as having a poor history dating back more than a decade. Other members of his staff have said they did not feel comfortable with his work, the report said. The employee had been counseled and corrected on the spot, state officials said, but remained in his position.
The Federal Communications Commission, in its own preliminary report, said the state employee had argued that he did believe there was really an attack when he blasted out the alert.
The incident began when a night-shift supervisor decided to test incoming day-shift workers with a spontaneous drill, the FCC report stated. The supervisor managing the day-shift workers appeared to be aware of the upcoming test but believed it was aimed at the outgoing night-shift workers. As a result, the day-shift manager was not prepared to supervise the morning test, the FCC said.
Following standard procedures, the night-shift supervisor posing as U.S. Pacific Command played a recorded message to the emergency workers warning them of the fake threat. The message included the phrase “Exercise, exercise, exercise,” the FCC report said, but it also included “This is not a drill” — language used for real missile alerts.
The worker who then sent the emergency alert said they did not hear the “exercise” part of the message. This person declined to be interviewed by investigators, but the worker did provide a written statement, the FCC said.
According to the FCC report released Tuesday, this worker is the only one who apparently did not understand it was a drill.
HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii’s emergency management leader has resigned and a state employee who sent an alert falsely warning of an incoming ballistic missile has been fired, officials said Tuesday, weeks after the mistake caused widespread panic.
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi stepped down Tuesday, state Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Joe Logan said. A second agency worker quit before disciplinary action was taken and another was being suspended without pay, Logan said in announcing results of an internal investigation.
The fallout came the same day the Federal Communications Commission revealed that the worker who pushed out the alert thought an actual attack was imminent. It was the first indication the Jan. 13 alert was purposely sent, adding another level of confusion to the misstep that left residents and tourists believing their lives were about to end.
The state emergency agency worker believed the attack was real because of a mistake in how the drill was initiated during a shift change, the FCC said in a report. The worker said he didn’t hear the word “exercise” repeated six times even though others clearly heard it.
There was no requirement to double-check with a colleague or get a supervisor’s approval before sending the blast to cellphones, TV and radio stations statewide, the agency said.
“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.
The worker, who was fired Friday and whose name has not been revealed, has confused real-life events and drills in the past, the state said in a report. His poor performance has been documented for years, and other members of the team say they were not comfortable working with him in any role.
The employee 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.”
Once the employee sent the false alert, he was directed to send a cancel message but instead “just sat there and didn’t respond,” according to the state’s report on its internal investigation. Later, another employee took over the computer and sent the correction because the worker “seemed confused.”
Compounding the issues was that the agency lacked any preparation in how to correct the false alert. The federal agency, which regulates the nation’s airwaves and sets standards for such emergency alerts, criticized the state’s delay in correcting it.
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 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.