by Sam Zukin
On Jan. 13, the Emergency Alert System and the Commercial Mobile Alert System broadcast a false ballistic missile alert via mass media in the state of Hawaii. At 8:07 AM, the message said: “Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This Is Not a Drill,” sending Hawaiians into mass hysteria.
An unidentified employee from the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) inadvertently clicked the Missile Alert button, sending it to the public instead of the Test missile alert, which is only transmitted to the agency. A few minutes later, Maj. Gen. Arthur Logan, along with two other high officials, confirmed with the US Pacific Command that the missile threat was a false alarm. The EMA then quickly informed the Honolulu Police Department of this fact. Even though the EMA and numerous political leaders utilized social media to notify the public it was a false alarm, it took approximately 40 minutes for state officials to send it via the mobile devices.
According to the administrator of Hawaii’s EMA, Vern Miyagi, the individual responsible “feels terrible.” Even though The State Warning Point, a communications center, ordered the cancellation of the alert, it was already widespread by then and citizens flew into panic mode.
Vehicles lay empty on the major highway H-3 after the message was broadcast, according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser. Guests staying at hotels were confined into basements in fear of the potential deadly missile.
Governor of Hawaii David Ige apologized for the false alarm and promised immediate changes for the system issuing those alerts. “I am sorry for the pain and confusion it caused. I, too, am extremely upset about this and am doing everything I can do to immediately improve our emergency management systems, procedures and staffing,” Ige said. Hawaii remains the only state that sends cell phone alerts to notify the public of an incoming ballistic missile, a privilege granted in November in the wake of North Korea’s potential powerful nuclear arsenal.
Ige appointed Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara to overview the investigation into the emergency management process. In the aftermath of this event, authorities reassigned the employee responsible to another position within the company. The EMA will also require a two-person confirmation before alerts can be broadcasted. Along with Hawaii’s own investigation, the Federal Communications Commission is launching their own which Ajit Pai, head of the commission, announced on Twitter.
The false alert, however, touched on the daunting possibility of a genuine missile attack and what would people do in that situation and tainted the faith that people have in their government.
(Sources: Eurasia Review, The Chicago Tribune, USA Today, CBS)