FCC: Hawaii False Missile Alert Sent by Worker Who Thought Attack Was Imminent

Honolulu, Hawaii / Getty Images
January 30, 2018

The Hawaii employee who sent out a false alarm about an incoming ballistic missile threat said he misheard a message played during a drill and believed a missile was actually heading toward the state, according to an official report.

Results of an investigation into the inaccurate cellphone alert were released in a preliminary report by the Federal Communications Commission, and were summarized by the Washington Post on Tuesday.

According to the report, the incident occurred after a night-shift supervisor decided to test incoming day-shift workers with a spontaneous drill. The day-shift supervisor thought the test was aimed at outgoing night-shift workers and was unprepared to supervise the test.

During the drill, a recorded message warning of a fake threat included the phrase "exercise, exercise, exercise," but also "this is not a drill," a phrase used in actual alerts.

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.

Hawaii emergency management officials have temporarily suspended emergency alert drills and plans to send more warning before future drills. In addition, officials have agreed that going forward a second person will be needed to confirm sending out alerts.

The Post notes that the false alarm, which caused widespread panic across the state, came at a time of particular tension in the region over the threat of a potential attack by North Korea. As a result of the increasing concern, Hawaii last year brought back a Cold War-style siren to warn of a potential nuclear attack.

The updated explanation for the error contradicts earlier statements made by top Hawaii officials, including the spokesperson for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, who said, "In this case, the operator selected the wrong menu option."

Gov. David Ige (D.) had also blamed "a mistake made during a standard procedure at the changeover of a shift and an employee pushed the wrong button."

FCC commissioner Ajit Pai said the incident showed a "critical failure on the part of Hawaii's emergency management agency," and said the government needs to learn from it.

Published under: FCC , Missile Defense