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Top officials resign, worker fired after issuing false missile alert in Hawaii

The warning-system worker who issued the false ballistic missile alert in Hawaii on Jan. 13 has been fired and the top two civilian officials of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency have resigned in a personnel shakeup stemming from the alert that stirred mass hysteria across the state, the agency’s military director said on Tuesday.

Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi and his No. 2, executive officer Toby Clairmont, have resigned, while suspension procedures are underway for a mid-level manager at the agency. Another agency worker quit before disciplinary action was taken, state Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Joe Logan said.

The report from the internal investigation and a report from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission earlier in the day revealed that the worker who pushed out the alert thought an actual attack was imminent. It was the first indication the false alert was purposely sent, adding another level of confusion to the misstep.

Hawaii-Mistaken Missile Alert

Vern Miyagi, Administrator, HEMA, left, and Hawaii Gov. David Ige addressed the media Jan. 13, during a news conference at the Hawaii Emergency Management Center following the false alarm issued of a missile launch on Hawaii. Miyagi resigned Tuesday. (George F. Lee/The Star-Advertiser via Associated Press)

The worker who sent the false alert has refused to co-operate with the state or federal investigations, beyond providing a written statement. Logan said he was fired Friday.

He had performance issues in the past, according to the report from the internal investigation. It says the worker confused real-life events and drills at least two previous times. One was related to a fire and another to a tsunami.

‘Exercise, exercise, exercise’

On the morning of Jan. 13, the recorded message began by saying “exercise, exercise, exercise” — the script for a drill, the reports say. 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 fired employee said he did not hear the “exercise, exercise, exercise” part of the message and believed the threat was real, according to the employee’s statement.

Hawaii-North Korea

Toby Clairmont, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s executive officer, shows new informational materials to a reporter in Honolulu in 2017. Clairmont resigned on Friday. (Jennifer Sinco Kelleher/The Associated Press)

Five other employees in the room said they did hear that it was an exercise.

According to the internal report, six minutes after the false alert had gone public, the employee who sent it was directed to send a message cancelling the alert. But the employee “just sat there and didn’t respond … and seemed confused” the report says.

The drill was initiated during a shift change, the FCC notes in their report.

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.


A combination photograph shows screenshots from a cellphone displaying an alert for a ballistic missile launch and the subsequent false alarm message in Hawaii on Jan. 13. (Hugh Gentry/Reuters)

At the news conference releasing the internal report, Logan said the supervisors for both shifts were in the hallway, not the room when the false alert went out.

It went uncorrected for 38 minutes after being transmitted to mobile phones and broadcast stations.

‘No procedures in place’

“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.

Wiley said the FCC was unable to “fully evaluate” the assertion the employee believed it was an actual attack.

Hawaii’s governor had earlier said the employee pressed the wrong button by mistake.

Hawaii’s mistaken missile alert2:06

Compounding the problem 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 defence drills until its own investigation is done.

The FCC said “a combination of human error and inadequate safeguards contributed to the transmission of this false alert.” It said Hawaii’s “lack of preparation for how to respond to this transmission of a false alert” was largely responsible for the 38-minute delay in correcting it.

“We want to minimize both the chances of future false alerts being issued as well as the impact of any such false alerts,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.

Hawaii-Attack Warning System

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency officials work at the department’s command centre in Honolulu on Dec. 1, 2017. (Caleb Jones/The Associated Press)

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