Lawmakers demand answers on false missile alarm — and state's response

Students run for cover after receiving missile alert mistake
Updated: Jan. 13, 2018 at 1:43 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Fear turned into anger Saturday as lawmakers sought to figure out how a false alert about a ballistic missile threat was sent out — and why it took so long to correct it.

Some had this blunt message for the governor's office: In the wake of this mistake, heads should roll.

"What happened today is totally inexcusable. The whole state was terrified," said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, on Twitter. "There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process."

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said the state needs to "get to the bottom of what happened and make sure it never happens again."

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, said Hawaii residents "just got a sense of the stark reality of what a nuclear strike" would look like.

"The people of Hawaii experienced that in 15 minutes they and their families are going to be dead. Gone. That's what they just went through," she said, on Twitter. "Everyone in American needs to understand that if you had to go through this, you would be as angry as I am - I have been talking about the seriousness of this threat for years."

While city and military officials took to social media within 15 minutes to quell fears and say the message was sent in error, it took state emergency management — which sent out the message in the first place — 38 minutes to send out a "false alarm" alert to cell phones using the same mechanism that distributed the emergency warning in the first place.

That delay draw as much rebuke as the false alarm itself.

"I can't believe if someone pushed the wrong button accidentally that it would take 38 minutes to correct it," said U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii.

Meanwhile, state leaders said a legislative hearing on the alert fumbles is planned for Friday.

"This system we have been told to rely upon failed and failed miserably today," said state House Speaker Scott Saiki. "I am deeply troubled by this misstep that could have had dire consequences."

Saiki added that the state needs to ensure the people who were responsible for the error should be held accountable. And he said that accountability might include resignations or firings.

State Rep. Andria Tupola agreed.

"People calling their family their family members thinking they're going to die. This is not a joke," she said.

State Senate Majority Leader Kalani English said the false alarm was "unfortunate and very unacceptable."

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"I am outraged that a mistake of this magnitude occurred," he said, in a statement. "The panic and pandemonium that many in Hawaii experienced was unwarranted and completely unnecessary."

The governor confirmed Saturday that the alarm was the result of human error.

"The alarm was sent out in error, and we know that the procedure in a shift change had been followed, and a human error sent out the false alarm," Ige told Hawaii News Now.

"We then went through our process to correct that and send out a notification that the alert was in error."

This story will be updated.

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