A preliminary FCC report concludes that a combination of human error and inadequate safeguards led to the transmission of a false missile alert in Hawaii on Jan. 13, creating a harrowing scene for residents as it took 38 minutes for a second message to be sent confirming that the alarm was false.
The message, transmitted to wireless devices, read, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency posted a message on Twitter 12 minutes later that read, “NO missile threat to Hawaii.” But it took another 25 minutes for a false alarm message to be sent, informing residents that there was no missile threat.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai quickly launched an investigation, and Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency said that an employee selected the wrong template to send out the message during a test drill — as it went out live rather than to an internal system.
James Wiley , attorney adviser for the FCC, said that the warning officer “apparently failed to recognize that this was an exercise even though the other warning officers on duty understood that this was not a real emergency.”
Wiley said that “there were no procedures in place to prevent a single person from mistakenly sending a missile alert to the State of Hawaii.
“While such an alert addressed a matter of the utmost gravity, there was no requirement in place for a warning officer to double check with a colleague or get signoff from a supervisor before sending such an alert,” he said.
The FCC investigation traced the chain of events to miscommunication between the Hawaii EMA’s midnight shift supervisor and the day shift supervisor so that the drill was run without proper supervision.
Pai said that “the only things that struck the island on Jan. 13 were panic, and then outrage.” He said that the investigation had shown that Hawaii did not have “reasonable safeguards” in place to prevent human error and “no plan for what to do if a false alert were transmitted.”
Other commissioners also called for ensuring that something like the Hawaii alert doesn’t happen again. Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said that “it was astounding that no one was hurt in this incident.”