Report: State didn’t need FEMA’s permission to retract the false missile alert — but they waited anyway

Report: State didn’t need FEMA’s permission to retract the false missile alert — but they waited anyway
Gov. David Ige has won his bid for re-election, fighting off a general election challenge from Republican state Rep. Andria Tupola.

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - By now, it’s generally known what happened on January 13, 2018.

An employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) mistakenly issued a ballistic missile alert to Hawaii residents after interpreting a morning drill for the real thing, sending a wave of panic across the state.

State and federal officials have explained multiple times what took place between 8:05 a.m., when the drill began, and 8:45 a.m., when the false alarm message was issued.

Now, a recent report by the Office of the Inspector General closely examined the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s responsibilities in the incident.

It also identified two areas of concern in the process.

The report, dated Nov. 19, found that FEMA was not responsible for issuing a false alert or correction message, and that Hawaii’s emergency agency did not need federal approval to send a correction message.

The report also briefly provided a timeline of events.

8:07 a.m.: The false alert is sent out to cellphones and broadcast on televisions and radios across the state.

8:12 a.m.: HI-EMA cancels the alert, which prevented further distribution of the message to other devices that may have been turned off or out of cell service during the initial alarm.

It wasn’t until 8:26 a.m. when local employees reached out to FEMA for further guidance on what to do. According to the report, when HI-EMA contacted FEMA, no one answered, so the employee left a message.

8:30 a.m.: HI-EMA attempts again to contact FEMA. This effort was successful and the FEMA employee was able to provide guidance on the correct procedure for issuing an all-clear/false alarm.

8:45 a.m.: The false alert correction message is sent out 15 minutes later.

“While the false alarm message was at the full discretion of HI-EMA, officials decided to delay sending the message until after employees contacted FEMA,” the report said.

“We interviewed HI-EMA personnel who indicated that while they understood they did not need FEMA’s permission to send the false alarm message, they felt it prudent to seek advice and guidance on the appropriate message type because of the severity of the original alert,” the report added.

Officials also added that they would have sent the message eventually if they could not get in touch with FEMA via phone.

Two areaa of concern brought forth by the Inspector General’s report included a lack of training on the alert software, and FEMA’s absence in requiring that such software programs be capable of previewing or canceling alerts.

The federal agency is responsible for maintaining the alert platform to ensure the system is operating properly at the need of local authorities. In this case, it was operating properly — had the threat been real.

The report added that FEMA is not responsible for tracking alert mistakes.

“FEMA typically becomes aware of mistakes when the alerting authority contacts the (Program Management Office) to request assistance with correcting them,” the report said, adding that situations like these are “infrequent.”

Following the mistake, lawmakers introduced legislation that would shift more responsibility of the alert system to the federal level. The ‘Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats Act’ was introduced in February 2018. It calls for the federal government to be solely responsible for a alerting the public to a missile threat.

Local weather alerts would remain the responsibility of local authorities.

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