Worker who sent false missile alert refusing to speak to investigators

Lawmaker: Fire missile alert 'button pusher' for not talking to state, FCC
Published: Jan. 25, 2018 at 10:44 AM HST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2018 at 11:38 AM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Graphic: Hawaii News Now)
(Graphic: Hawaii News Now)

WASHINGTON D.C. (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state worker who inadvertently sent the false missile alert to all Hawaii phones is not cooperating with federal or state investigators, authorities said Thursday.

"We are quite pleased with the level of cooperation we have received from the leadership of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency thus far," Lisa Fowlkes, chief of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau at the FCC, said Thursday at a Congressional hearing.

"We are disappointed, however, that one key employee — the person who transmitted the false alert — is refusing to cooperate with our investigation. We hope that person will reconsider."

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the state Department of Defense, which oversees the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said the unidentified exempt union employee is also not cooperating with state investigators.

"He had provided a statement immediately after the incident," Lt. Col. Charles Anthony told Hawaii News Now. "But he has not provided any additional information since that time. Obviously, we're encouraging everyone to cooperate with all investigations."

Anthony also confirmed that while the worker has technically been reassigned from his previous duties, he has not reported to work at the state Emergency Operations Center at Diamond Head since Jan. 13, when the false missile alert was sent out.

The worker has been on sick leave, state Rep. Matt Lopresti confirmed who called Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator, Vern Miyagi, after learning of the news.

The revelations come as state and federal authorities continue to seek to re-create the sequence of events that led up to the false missile alert, which was sent to millions of residents and visitors in Hawaii and spurred fear and panic across the state.

It took 38 minutes for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to send another alert to inform the public that it was a false alarm.

In the wake of the alert, some called for the agency's administrator or the worker who sent the alert to resign — or be fired.

Lopresti, chairman of the House Veterans, Military, and International Affairs, and Culture and the Arts Committee, wasn't one of them. He has said state and federal investigations needed to play out before anyone was asked to leave.

But on Thursday, Lopresti said the state worker's refusal to cooperate with investigators should be grounds for termination.

"It's shocking. It's a citizen's duty to cooperate with investigations having to do with public safety," he said.

"When we find that someone is not cooperating with a federal investigation of public safety ... that's the end of it. It's basic insubordination of his own department, which is cooperating. He should get a pink slip by the end of the day."

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, declined to comment on the issue.

Miyagi and Governor Ige had previously expressed sympathy for the employee and coworkers -- pointing out they've received death threats.

Earlier Thursday, at the Congressional hearing (titled "This is Not a Drill: An Examination of Emergency"), Schatz told attendees that Hawaii's false missile alert should've been a federal function, not a state one.

"A missile attack is federal," he said.  "A missile attack is not a local responsibility."

Fowlkes told Congressional leaders that in addition to human error, the false alert was the result of the state's failure to have "safeguards to process controls in place to prevent the human error from resulting in the transmission of a false alert."

The hearing sought to examine the policies surrounding the use and effectiveness of the Emergency Alert System, including Wireless Emergency Alerts. Representatives from the FCC, the Wireless Association and National Association of Broadcasters also attended.

During the hearing, Schatz said he believes alerts regarding a missile attack should be sent out by federal authorities. He also said he would be introducing legislation to ensure responsibility would lie with the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Homeland Security.

"What happened in Hawaii raises basic policy questions," Schatz said.

He also asked why people were able to "opt out" of an alert being sent to their cellphones in such a dire event.

This story will be updated.

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