Hawaii's congressional leaders introduce bills in response to false missile alert

Published: Feb. 6, 2018 at 1:37 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 7, 2018 at 5:39 AM HST
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WASHINGTON D.C. (HawaiiNewsNow) - In response to Hawaii's false missile alert in January, Hawaii's congressional leaders are pushing for legislation that would call for major changes in alerting the public should a missile attack actually happen.

U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, are introducing the Civil Defense Accountability Bill to ensure more transparency in the investigations into the false missile alert on Jan. 13.

It would require federal agencies to provide to Congress and publish an online report detailing their actions during the false missile alert and corrective actions to prevent future false alarms. It would also require officials to lay out their current notification protocols for ballistic missile threats.

"In the weeks since the false alarm, we have heard confusing, often conflicting accounts from state officials about what went wrong and who is responsible," Hanabusa said, in a statement. "The public deserves a transparent, accurate accounting, like the one recently completed by the Federal Communications Commission, so we can make corrections and move forward."

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, also introduced legislation that would require the federal government to take responsibility for alerting the public should a missile attack actually happen.

Under the Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats Act – or ALERT Act – state and local governments would not be allowed to notify citizens about the threat.

The federal government is in a position to know for sure whether a missile is on its way, and therefore when they make that determination, there should not be a middleman,” said Schatz, a ranking member on the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet.

If the U.S. Pacific Command detects a missile threat to Hawaii, the Department of Defense would send an alert to the public using a software system that allows the president to issue a warning in the event of a national catastrophe.

"Right now, in order for any notification to be sent out, PACOM has to interact with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency," said Schatz. "So this will actually make it quicker, more efficient and more reliable.

HI-EMA's interim administrator said the agency is open to suggestions, but he had not yet seen the specific details of the proposal.

"The overall intent is to keep Hawaii safe and make sure people are notified properly, but I wouldn't be able to give any significant details or comments concerning the execution," said Brig. Gen. Moses Kaoiwi Jr.

Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim said he would be concerned if local governments were completely excluded from providing supplementary messages.

"The federal government has no way of knowing the site specific information that is needed to broadcast to the people," he said.

The bill would require the Federal Emergency Management Agency to establish a process to promptly notify state authorities when a missile alert has been issued. That way, they can activate their own plans to ensure public safety.

Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., are co-sponsors of the bipartisan measure.

Schatz has advocated in the past for federal responsibility. He has said that Hawaii rushed testing of the missile alert system.

The state was responsible for sending out the false missile alert on Jan. 13 that went out to millions of Hawaii residents and visitors. It took 38 minutes for the state to issue a retraction, sparking outrage over why it took so long. It was later revealed that the employee who sent the alert believed that an incoming missile was real.

The Federal Communications Commissions also concluded that the drill was run without sufficient supervision and that there weren't any proper procedures in place.

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