Hawaii ‘button pusher’ says he was ’100% sure' missile threat was real
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - "Utter hell."
That's how the former state worker who sent out an alert to all Hawaii phones about an inbound ballistic missile describes his life these days.
In his first interview since the Jan. 13 incident, the fired Hawaii Emergency Management Agency also sought to defend himself, saying he honestly believed the threat was real and that the state should be focusing less on him and more on the larger, systemic issues that led to a false alert being sent out.
"I don't think they're prepared for missile notifications," he said. "I think the military should handle that, but the point is — no, we weren't ready and we could have been trained more. It's just a big failure of the system."
The man, who asked not to be identified because he has been receiving death threats, said the drill that led him to believe an actual missile was headed to Hawaii "seemed very real because it was unplanned, unannounced and it was a weekend morning."
"I was convinced that it was real," he said, adding that the emergency management agency's "state warning point" was "chaotic" in the seconds after the drill started — minutes after a shift change. "I was 100 percent sure that it was real."
The state has acknowledged that the test of Hawaii's inbound missile threat warning system was unusual because it included the words, "This is not a drill," but was also prefaced and ended with "exercise."
State officials have also said that the worker who sent out the alert to phones had a "history" of confusing drills with real-world events and that five other people at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency that morning knew that the drill was just that.
State emergency management officials have been practicing routine missile defense drills for several months, as part of a campaign to better prepare Hawaii for the threat of a nuclear attack. And prior to the false alert being sent out, the missile threat drill had been conducted 26 times before.
The state's internal report on the false missile alert, released Tuesday, said the drill on Jan. 13 started as previous ones had: A recorded Pacific Command message was played over a loudspeaker at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency that began "exercise, exercise, exercise," then warned of an incoming ballistic missile and said, "This is not a drill."
The drill then ended with "exercise, exercise, exercise."
In its own report, the FCC said the employee who sent out the false alert heard "This is not a drill," but didn't hear "exercise."
The man who sent out the alert said he decided to come forward because he didn't believe the state was telling the truth about what really happened, and believed he was being unfairly blamed for something that was actually the result of poor planning and a series of systemic failures.
The "button pusher" also told Hawaii News Now that he honestly believed an inbound missile was headed to Hawaii — and he sent the alert to save lives.
While the state did not immediately issue a response to the interview Friday, officials have questioned why the worker refused to cooperate with investigators, instead providing them with a written statement.
And the state's internal investigation paints a very different picture of what happened in the moments leading up to the false missile alert.
State: Hawaii worker who sent out missile alert had 'history' of confusing drills and real events TIMELINE: State's breakdown of minutes before and after false missile alert went out FACT CHECK: Here's everything we know about the false missile alert
While state and FCC both acknowledge that a series of errors — from a lack of proper protocols to a confusing computer interface — are to blame for the false alarm, state investigators also said the "button pusher" had twice before confused drills with real-world events, and that other employees at Hawaii Emergency Management knew the missile drill wasn't real.
The fired state worker, meanwhile, said those two previous incidents were essentially "paperwork" issues, not errant alerts.
In the wake of the incident, an embarrassing episode for Hawaii that continues to generate national headlines, the head of the Emergency Management Agency and its executive officer have also resigned, and another employee has been suspended.
And the fallout from the missile alert keeps coming, in large part because of the state's own handling of the false alarm.
It took 38 minutes for the state to send out a correction after the alert went out — and during that time people ran for their lives and sent what they believed to be their final messages to loved ones.
Misinformation has also been a troubling theme.
In the days and weeks following the false missile alert, the governor and other state officials characterized the message about an inbound ballistic missile that went to hundreds of thousands of phones as a mistake; the "button pusher" didn't mean to send out the alert, the governor has said, and he only realized his mistake when it appeared on his own phone.
But on Tuesday, that story changed: The FCC and state's internal investigation both said the former state worker intended to send out the message believing an attack was imminent.
This story will be updated.
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