Hawaii Worker Who Sent Alert Mistakenly Thought Missiles on Way

An electronic sign reads

The truth, according to a new report from the Federal Communications Commission, is slightly different: The warning was not a clumsy accident, but the deliberate act of a state employee who sincerely believed an attack was imminent.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: It all started with a phone call. The FCC's report says that the employee actually did believe there was an emergency, and that there was miscommunication between supervisors at the state-run facility that monitors missile activity. The midnight shift supervisor then made a decision to do another test with the day shift to get them used to the system during a busier part of the day.

The shift change occurred at 8am, and the midnight shift supervisor told the day shift supervisor about the decision to run the test at shift change.

"The fact that there's a ballistic missile threat to Hawai'i begs the question that we should prepare for something".

The supervisor then played a recorded phone call to the agency's employees, pretending to be U.S. Pacific Command, which would normally warn the agency of a missile attack. "After that, however, the recording did not follow the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency's standard operating procedures for this drill". The recording began by saying 'exercise, exercise, exercise, ' language that is consistent with the beginning of the script for the drill. However, it was preceded again, with, 'Exercise, exercise, exercise, ' and ended with, 'Exercise, exercise, exercise.' And this was the protocol that they practiced 26 times before.

This message was relayed over speakerphone.

The worker who sent the actual alert didn't hear the "exercise" part, but according to the report, was the only worker who didn't understand it was a drill.

The alert sparked a period of sheer panic that saw people hug their loved ones goodbye.

Five other workers interviewed by the FCC claim to have heard the drill-specific portion of the message.

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

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

The FCC said the state emergency agency has taken steps to try to avoid a repeat of the false alert, requiring more supervision of drills and alert and test-alert transmissions.

Alert-origination software didn't differentiate between tests and live alerts and wasn't hosted on separate domains or applications.

A state probe into the false missile alert that went to Hawaii phones on January 13 included a minute-by-minute breakdown of what happened before and after the warning was triggered.

The first alert people received at 8.07am. The words "exercise, exercise, exercise" were uttered, which is the normal procedure for such drills, an incident timeline said. The person responsible for the mistake was disciplined and reassigned, but not fired, Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency said earlier this month. It's not clear if multiple statements were taken from the worker, or if Hawaii officials plan to dispute the worker's statement or the FCC report.

There will also be new leadership after the agency's top two civilian officials resigned.

For now, though, ballistic missile defense drills are on hold at HEMA pending the conclusion of the agency's own investigation.

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