Here's why NBC was inside the HI-EMA bunker the day before the missile alert mistake

Published: Feb. 8, 2018 at 9:08 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 9, 2018 at 10:21 AM HST
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(Image: NBC Left Field)
(Image: NBC Left Field)
(Image: NBC Left Field)
(Image: NBC Left Field)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the hours before the state's infamous missile alert mistake, a documentary crew from NBC News was getting an exclusive tour of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, gathering material for a future story that was meant to focus on communications in the aftermath of an actual attack.

"Let's just say this story didn't turn out like we thought it was going to," Jacob Soboroff would later say.

Soboroff, a reporter and member of NBC's Left Field documentary team, says he was surfing on the morning of January 13 – the morning the false alert was sounded. Cameras are rolling as Soboroff, who can be heard but not seen on camera in the footage, returns to his room and tries to get into contact with other filmmakers to figure out if the alarm is real.

It would be only minutes before Soboroff would appear on MSNBC's live coverage that morning – relaying to a national audience that the alert was a mistake – in what seemed at the time like a fortuitous 'get' for the network: a reporter who happened to be in Hawaii as many believed the state was under attack.

It was never the intention.

The Left Field team had been in Hawaii to produce a story that focused instead on modern technology; more specifically, according to a description of the finished report that was published Thursday, a story that would show "how reliant we are on cell phones– and how unprepared we are if they become inaccessible."

The story included interviews with HI-EMA officials, including then-administrator Vern Miyagi, on the day before the alert was sent out.

In the event of a nuclear explosion in the skies above Hawaii, electronic devices for miles in every direction would be damaged or destroyed by the electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which would accompany the blast. In addition to physical devices, phone and broadband internet infrastructure would be crippled.

With that in mind, the NBC Left Field team wanted to talk to "an unlikely group of hobbyists" who operate ham radios – the type that would survive an electromagnetic pulse. With telephone, cellular and internet networks damaged, ham radio operators would be among the only people capable of communicating with the outside world.

To read more about the NBC Left Field team's report, or to watch the mini-documentary on YouTube, click here.

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