1 year ago, a missile alert scare caused panic across Hawaii. Here’s what’s changed since

On Jan. 13, 2018, over a million people in Hawaii received an emergency alert warning of a ballistic missile threat.

Nearly 1 year after Hawaii’s false missile alerm, state dismantles missile alert system
Sunday marks 1 year since Hawaii's false missile alert

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Jan. 13, 2019 marks one year since Hawaii residents and visitors were thrown into a panic over a feared missile threat.

Those in Hawaii woke up to their worst nightmares: A terrifying emergency alert on their cell phones that warned of a ballistic missile threat. It read in part, “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

The alert on Jan. 13, 2018, sent a wave of fear the state, with some running for their lives and others calling loved ones, thinking it was the last time they would ever speak to them again.

It wasn’t until 38 minutes later when emergency officials issued a corrected alert saying it was a false alarm, which then triggered frustration and anger over why it took so long for a correction to be issued.

Sunday marks one year since that unforgettable event, and suffice it to say, many lessons have been learned along the way in hopes that something like this will never happen again.

Tom Travis, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, told Hawaii News Now on Friday that first and foremost, “all of the ballistic missile alarms have been shelved.”

That includes emergency alerts via cell phone and outdoor emergency sirens, he said.

As part of a campaign to prepare residents in the months leading up to the false missile alert, Hawaii had preparing for a possible nuclear attack as tensions escalated between the U.S. and the North Korea. But since then, Travis said “the danger has changed, so there’s no procedures left."

He added, however, that "if conditions change, we might have to reevaluate.”

Though the alarms been shelved, Travis said the agency continues to improve and evaluate its procedures, including tighter communication with the media to get alerts out faster.

“There is always room for improvement, but I think we’ve been tested with fire in the last year,” Travis said, adding that he hopes the public has “some confidence that we’re approaching our job responsibly and professionally.”

Travis took over HI-EMA in March — after the false missile alert led to the resignation of Vern Miyagi, who was administrator at the time.

Toby Clairmont, executive officer of HI-EMA, also resigned in the wake of the bogus missile alert.

And the employee who sent out the original alert was fired. He has said he believed Hawaii was actually under attack and expressed serious concerns about how the state trained its employees.

Multiple investigations blamed the mistake on human error and inadequate management safeguards. Not only did the state pledge to overhaul its system, but there were even some pushes at the federal level for change.

Several bills were introduced in Congress, including one introduced by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, that would end the ability to opt out of alerts and also use online video and audio streaming services to alert the public. Legislation would also give the federal government the primary responsibility to alert the public in the event of a missile threat.

Meanwhile, the man responsible for the false missile alert has been fired by the state agency and is now on the mainland.

A state investigation claimed the man was a problem employee, but his attorney said the man was made to be the scapegoat and that the false missile alert was the result of miscommunication.

“His explanation was when the phone rang and they were calling in this test, someone picked up the phone," said lawyer Michael Green.

“When they hung up the phone what came out was ‘this is not a test, this is not a test.’”

Green said his client has received death threats and just wants his life to go back to normal.

“My guy was a supervisor for years, was well respected, loved his job. Then all of the sudden the earth turned upside down and swallowed him," Green said.

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