FACT CHECK: Here's everything we know about the false missile alert

Hawaii worker who sent missile alert fired; thought threat was real
Published: Jan. 18, 2018 at 8:44 PM HST|Updated: Jan. 30, 2018 at 3:18 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

The state and FCC both conducted probes in the wake of the alert and found that the state worker who sent it out believed the threat was real.

In other words, this was no mistake.

That's in contrast to what the state has been saying all along: That the alert was sent inadvertently during a test of the state's ballistic missile alert system — and was the result of human error and a confusing computer interface.

So why didn't the state change its story earlier?

The governor said he only found out the alert was sent intentionally on Monday, a day before the state's internal report was released publicly.

That is the question.

State and FCC investigators both pointed to serious systemic issues at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency that essentially allowed a single person to send an alert to all Hawaii phones about a disaster that, if real, would result in widespread casualties and destruction.

Testing of the missile alert system was halted in the wake of the false alarm, and a series of other changes were put in place.

There are also a series of recommendations for the state from its own internal report and the FCC's probe.

Gov. David Ige has also pledged that Hawaii will never again send out a false alert warning of an inbound ballistic missile.

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

The state worker who sent out the false missile alert was fired Jan. 26, after an internal investigation into the false alert was wrapped up.

Officials said since Jan. 13, that worker had been reassigned to a different unit at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

But they also confirmed he had not returned to work and had been taking sick leave.

Meanwhile, the administrator of the agency, Vern Miyagi, has also resigned as has the department's executive officer.

A fourth employee has been suspended.

Here's the best timeline available (you can also get a minute-by-minute breakdown of what happened at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency here):

  • 8:07 a.m.: A HI-EMA employee triggers the ballistic missile alert, thinking that a drill being conducted was actually real. Five other employees at the agency's Diamond Head headquarters did not believe the drill was real, and learned the alert had been sent when they got it on their phones.
  • 8:09 a.m.: After confirming with Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the state adjutant general called the governor to let him know the missile alert was a false alarm.
  • 8:10 a.m.: The state begins the recall and cancellation process.
  • 8:10 a.m.: Hawaii's adjutant general calls U.S. Pacific Command to confirm that there is no threat.
  • 8:12 a.m.: A HI-EMA employee tells the worker who sent the message to cancel it so that it doesn't continue getting sent to phones that were off or out of range. The worker, though, sits there and "doesn't respond," so another worker grabs the man's computer mouse and cancels it.
  • 8:19 a.m.: Hawaii News Now sends out a push alert confirming the ballistic missile alarm is false.
  • 8:19 a.m.: U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, takes to Twitter to also quell fears.
  • 8:20 a.m.: The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency's official Twitter account sends out a tweet on the false alarm.
  • 8:23 a.m.: Three minutes later, the agency posts a similar message to its official Facebook page.
  • 8:25 a.m.: The mayor sends out a message on Twitter confirming that the alert had been sent in error.
  • 8:35 a.m.: PACOM sends out a statement via email that says the warning was distributed in error.
  • 8:43 a.m.: The state sends out an alert to phones in Hawaii to say its first message was a false alarm.

No. The governor had said state emergency management employees called FEMA to seek permission for a correction alert.

But officials clarified that statement, saying that call wasn't about getting permission, but about getting guidance.

The state report said Hawaii called FEMA at 8:30 a.m. At that point, FEMA agreed that the criteria had been met to send out a correction alert.

Conspiracy theories are bouncing around the internet in the wake of the false alarm, and that's not surprising.

The theories are founded in absolutely no fact (also not surprising), but they are causing concern and questions.

One of the conspiracy theories says the false alert was actually the result of a hack. Another says there really was a missile launch and the government is trying to cover it up.

The response from Hawaii Emergency Management Agency's spokesman: "It's absolutely ridiculous. People need to be careful what they read on the internet."

City officials say there were at least four medical emergencies in which the patients or their families blamed the false missile alert.

The most serious: A Hawaii Kai man suffered a massive heart attack, had no pulse and had stopped breathing. He's now on the mend.

Also within an hour of the alert coming in, paramedics helped an 89-year-old man who fell and was in stable condition; a 37-year-old woman who got into a car crash; and a 38-year-old woman who called 911 after experiencing anxiety.

Residents reported several stores kicked them out and shuttered their doors after the alert came down.

Walmart has already apologized after customers reported they were turned away from several locations.

The governor also addressed this in his speech to the state: "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," he said.

Hawaii is the only state with a pre-written alert that warns of an inbound ballistic missile.

The state started testing the alert several months ago, amid rising tensions with North Korea.

Hawaii has also launched an educational campaign and started monthly drills of the Cold War-era "wailing" attack warning siren.

There are a number of reasons why some residents and visitors didn't get the alert.

The most obvious: Some people turned off notifications for emergency alerts or their phones required an "opt in." (Here's how to check those notifications.)

But the FCC has also told state officials that cellphone carriers may choose not to participate in the nation's Wireless Emergency Alert system.

And some carriers may also offer the service only to some geographic areas and only to some mobile devices.

Finally, some cellphones may not be capable of receiving the alerts or they may have been out of range when the alert came in.

Since starting its campaign to better prepare residents for the threat of a nuclear attack, the state has maintained that the chances of North Korea lobbing a missile at the islands is very low.

But, officials say, it's important to be ready for any threat, even the less likely ones.

North Korea experts have also said that the probability of North Korea attacking the United States is low.

That's because such an action would mean an end to the North Korean regime and its rotund dictator, Kim Jong Un.

"It would quickly lead to the destruction of the world for the North Korean leaders," said Denny Roy, analyst at East West Center. "Their regime and their personal, physical safety would be lost."

Until an all clear is sent out, consider the alert to be real and seek shelter immediately.

Some shelters are better than others, and if you're in a car, pull to the side of the road and head to a building.

The state's catchy slogan for what to do: "Get inside, stay inside and stay tuned."

[Read up on tips for what you should do in the event of an actual nuclear attack by clicking here.]

Copyright 2018 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.