20 minutes after false missile alert, Hawaii decided to call feds
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Twenty-three minutes after a state employee mistakenly sent out a warning that there was a ballistic missile headed toward the Hawaiian Islands, Hawaii officials called FEMA to get help sending out a correction.
The governor said Wednesday that that FEMA calls was to seek permission to send out a second alert.
But officials corrected that message Thursday, saying the call was actually for help.
And FEMA has also stressed that Hawaii did not need its approval to send out a second alert letting people know it was a false alarm.
A spokesperson with the Federal Emergency Management Agency told Hawaii News Now on Wednesday afternoon that FEMA's first discussion with Hawaii emergency management officials occurred at 8:30 a.m. Hawaii time – some 23 minutes after the emergency alert was first sent.
The spokesperson said federal approval was not required to send out a retraction message at any point, though the agency was able to provide some technical guidance during the incident. State officials said Saturday that their confusion surrounding that protocol delayed the issuance of a correction.
The new revelation is further angering Hawaii lawmakers, who called the delay "unacceptable."
"It makes me angry just to recount that 20 minutes," said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, on Wednesday.
"What's clear also, from the timeline, is they did a lot of things consecutively rather than all at once, understanding that people really were saying their goodbyes, people thought they were going to perish, that every second counted."
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Schatz and Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, both spoke with officials from the U.S. Department of Defense, the Federal Communications Commission and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday, trying to learn more about what went wrong.
"This incident has undermined the public's faith in our state government's ability to provide timely and accurate information about a potential crisis," Hirono said.
The confusion — and panic — following the false alert have raised questions about whether any state should be solely responsible for notifying the public of such an event, especially as Washington and North Korea trade insults and threats.
Hawaii is the only state in the nation with a pre-programmed alert that can be quickly sent to wireless devices if a ballistic missile is heading toward the U.S.
U.S. reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard have asked the House Armed Services Committee to hold a hearing on the issue.
They said in a letter to the committee Tuesday that it's understandable for states to have primary jurisdiction over warnings for floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
"However, when it comes to matters of national security, including whether a ballistic missile has been launched against the United States, one must question whether any state emergency management agency is best suited for that role," the letter says.
The debate comes as North Korea claims it is testing weapons that could deliver a nuclear-tipped ballistic missile to Hawaii, Guam and even the U.S. mainland.
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