State: False alert shows Hawaii must better prep for nuclear attack

VIDEO: Vern Miyagi details false missile alert on Sunrise
Updated: Jan. 16, 2018 at 11:20 AM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Despite calls to fire the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee who accidentally sent a false missile alert to phone across the state, Administrator Vern Miyagi is standing by his decision to keep the employee.

"We have to finish the investigation of what happened," Miyagi said, in an interview on Sunrise. "Until I do that, I can't just flat out fire somebody, discipline anybody. He has rights and we have find out what happened before we do anything that tragic."

The false alarm on Saturday happened after that employee accidentally sent out an actual alert rather than a test. The employee, a 10-year veteran of the agency, has since been reassigned.

"We still need his services, but not in that area," Miyagi said. Yet, firing him wasn't out of the question, he added,

The pledge to keep the employee comes a day after Gov. David Ige delivered a rare, statewide ddress to again apologize for the "fear, anxiety and heartache" Saturday's false alert about an inbound ballistic missile caused in the islands.

He also pledged that his administration is taking steps to ensure it doesn't happen again — and will work to better prepare the public for an attack to head off the panic and confusion the false alarm prompted.

"Children going down manholes, stores closing their doors to those seeking shelter and cars driving at high speeds cannot happen again. We will do a better job of educating the public," Ige said.

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

The alert that went out to all Hawaii smart phones was nothing less than terrifying: "Missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill." It took state officials 38 minutes to send a correction, though authorities took to social media within 15 minutes to debunk the alarm.

The state has taken a number of steps to prevent another false alarm, including changing its procedures and tweaking the interface used to send the alerts. An image of that interface was released Monday, and many questioned its design.

Miyagi, meanwhile, said no one has asked him to resign.

"I don't quit. I've learned a lot from this," he said.

What he has learned: "I'm taking this as a picture of what would happened to the population of Hawaii, how they would react if this ever happened," Miyagi said, adding that he has also apologized and took responsibility for the situation.

He added that he's focusing on how to improve issues on the back end as well as community outreach — including reaching out to schools and businesses — and how to better inform the people of Hawaii.

"There are gaps we have to work on," he said.

Within seconds of the false alert, residents and visitors scrambled to find shelter. People huddled in their bathtubs. They got into storm drains or rushed into basements. Some tried to seek shelter in businesses only to be turned away.

Ige said on Tuesday morning that after the false alert, many in communities helped each other.

But many residents also expressed frustration in the wake of the alarm, saying they didn't know what to do.

"We're going to work with families so that they know that they shouldn't be going down manholes and what those processes are," Ige said.

"I think what we learned from this event is that many of us never really contemplated what they would actually do if it happened. And that's what we're committed to improving. We know that public education is a big part of how we move forward."

• 'After false missile alert, some Hawaii businesses threw customers out
• Here's what to do in the event of an actual nuclear attack
• Fearing inbound missile, many uttered what they thought might be their last words
Terrifying': False ballistic missile threat sends Hawaii into panic
• WATCH: Ige says false missile threat alarm was result of someone pushing wrong button

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