It’s been a month since Hawaii’s false missile alert. Here’s what’s changed

TIMELINE: State's breakdown of minutes before and after false missile alert went out

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - It's been exactly a month since a false missile alert sent shockwaves through Hawaii, sending many residents and tourists into a state of panic.

Since then, investigations were conducted, safety measures were reevaluated, and several people either lost their jobs or resigned in the fallout.

Here's a recap of everything that's happened since Jan. 13.

State, federal investigations conducted

The false missile alert prompted action by several state and federal officials, including investigations into the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency's protocols.

During their investigations, both state and FCC investigators found several systemic issues at the agency that allowed a single person to send a ballistic missile alert to all Hawaii phones.

The FCC found in its preliminary report that "a combination of human error and inadequate safeguards" were the main contributors to the false alert.

As a result of the incident, the missile alert system testing was put on hold and several other changes began taking place. Both the state and FCC investigations produced a series of recommendations for improvement.

The state worker who sent out the false missile alert was fired Jan.26, after an internal investigation into the false alert ended.

The head of HI-EMA and its executive officer both resigned and another employee was also suspended.

State officials said that the worker who sent out the alert to phones had a "history" of confusing drills with real-world events and that five other people at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency that morning knew that the drill was just that.

In its own report, the FCC said the employee who sent out the false alert heard "This is not a drill," but didn't hear "exercise."

Prior to the false alert being sent out, the missile threat drill had been conducted 26 times before as part of a campaign to better prepare Hawaii for a nuclear attack. However, the drill that took place on Jan. 13 was not scheduled, unlike the previous drills.

The "button pusher" told Hawaii News Now that he honestly believed an inbound missile was headed to Hawaii — and he sent the alert to save lives.

In its first address to the public concerning the incident, the state said that the alert was accidentally set off by the HI-EMA employee. Later the state adjusted its narrative to fit the HI-EMA worker's account.

Lawmakers call for changes

Hawaii's congressional leaders are pushing for legislation that would cause significant changes to how the public is alerted in the event of an actual missile attack.

U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, introduced the Civil Defense Accountability bill to ensure more transparency in the investigations into the false missile alert. The bill would require federal agencies to report findings to Congress as well as posting them online.

It would also require officials to lay out their current notification protocols for ballistic missile threats.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, also introduced legislation that would require the federal government to take responsibility for alerting the public should a missile attack actually happen.

Under the Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats Act – or ALERT Act – state and local governments would not be allowed to notify citizens about the threat.

"The federal government is in a position to know for sure whether a missile is on its way, and therefore when they make that determination, there should not be a middleman," said Schatz, a ranking member on the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet.

Hawaii lawmakers also proposed legislation that would prohibit businesses from turning people away in the event of an attack.

On the day of the false alarm, Hawaii News Now received multiple calls from shoppers and residents who said the Walmart store on Keeaumoku Street turned them away after were warned to take shelter.

Members of the state House of Representatives have introduced two pieces of legislation specifically designed to address this issue.

The first, House Bill 2673, prohibits places of public accommodation from denying shelter to any person when the state, or any portion thereof, is the subject of an emergency alert that advises the public to immediately seek shelter.

It would require businesses to provide a safe place for the public to shelter until a federal, state, or county emergency management official advises that the emergency condition no longer exists. It would also fine anyone that violates the law, though the amount has not yet been determined.

There would also be provisions for civil liability immunity, with certain exceptions.

A second measure, House Bill 2693, also requires businesses and homeowners to provide shelter upon missile threat alert and would provides immunity. However, lawmakers later removed the provision forcing homeowners to open up their homes as shelters.

The proposal would require the Hawaii Advisory Council on Emergency Management to develop a plan for emergency and disaster response.

Lessons Learned

HI-EMA has altered its alert system to require multiple sign-offs for a missile alert to be sent.

Agency officials have also installed a follow-up alert that can be sent out immediately in case the false missile incident was repeated.

Gov. David Ige has also pledged that Hawaii will never again send out a false alert warning of an inbound ballistic missile.

"Let me be clear, false notifications — and waiting for what felt like an eternity — will not happen again. You have my promise on this," he said.

Timeline of Events

On Jan.13 at 8:07 a.m. a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency official triggered the ballistic missile alert, mistaking a drill for a real attack. As a result, many residents of the Aloha State received the following push alert:

8:09 a.m.: After confirming with Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the state adjutant general called the governor to let him know the missile alert was a false alarm.

8:10 a.m.: The state begins the recall and cancellation process.

8:10 a.m.: Hawaii's adjutant general calls U.S. Pacific Command to confirm that there is no threat.

8:12 a.m.: A HI-EMA employee tells the worker who sent the message to cancel it so that it doesn't continue getting sent to phones that were off or out of range. The worker, though, sits there and "doesn't respond," so another worker grabs the man's computer mouse and cancels it.

8:19 a.m.: Hawaii News Now sends out a push alert confirming the ballistic missile alarm is false.

8:19 a.m.: U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, takes to Twitter to also quell fears.

8:20 a.m.: The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency's official Twitter account sends out a tweet on the false alarm.

8:23 a.m.: Three minutes later, the agency posts a similar message to its official Facebook page.

8:25 a.m.: The mayor sends out a message on Twitter confirming that the alert had been sent in error.

8:35 a.m.: PACOM sends out a statement via email that says the warning was distributed in error.

8:43 a.m.: The state sends out an alert to phones in Hawaii to say its first message was a false alarm.

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