Future Tense

Hawaii’s False Missile Alert Sent By Official Who Thought Real Attack Was Imminent

A morning view of the city of Honolulu, Hawaii is seen on January 13, 2018.
A morning view of the city of Honolulu, Hawaii is seen on January 13, 2018. EUGENE TANNER/ AFP PHOTO/ Getty Images

The false alert from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency that led the state’s population to believe that they were about to be hit by a ballistic missile earlier this month was sent by an officer who thought a missile was incoming, the Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday in its preliminary report on the incident.

The finding sheds more light on previous statements from Hawaiian officials, who initially said that the officer simply pressed the wrong button. The fact that the officer had intentionally sent out the alarm was not previously public information.

On the morning of Jan. 13, the night shift supervisor at the emergency agency ran a drill by playing a recording over the phone that began with the words “exercise, exercise, exercise,” consistent with the language for a drill, according to the FCC report. However, the recording also mistakenly included the phrase “this is not a drill,” which is the language warning of an actual missile alert. The officer, whose identity has not been released and who is refusing to speak with the FCC, claimed in a written statement that he or she did not hear “exercise, exercise, exercise,” and instead only heard “this is not a drill.”

The report surmises that miscommunication between supervisors about the drill led to a lack of proper supervision, and that the Hawaiian agency does not have sufficient safeguards to prevent a single officer from sending a state-wide alert. It also points out that the agency exacerbated the issue by neglecting to devise a contingency plan to handle false alerts.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a statement on the report, which reads in part, “The public needs to be able to trust that when the government issues an emergency alert, it is indeed a credible alert. Otherwise, people won’t take alerts seriously and respond appropriately when a real emergency strikes and lives are on the line.” He also noted that the FCC is working with national and local governments to develop better safeguards and procedures for dealing with false alerts.

It took 38 minutes for officials to correct the misinformation. Some state officials, including Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, were quick to send clarifications out on Twitter. But Gov. David Ige was slower in his response: He had forgotten the password to his account.

Correction, Jan. 30: This post originally referred to Tulsi Gabbard as a senator. She is a member of the House of Representatives.