Investigation launched into Hawaii’s ballistic missile threat message sent in error
Reasonable safeguards that would have prevented the transmission of a message to Hawaiian residents warning of an imminent missile attack were not in place, the chairman of the US Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai has admitted.
On Saturday morning an emergency alert was sent to mobile phones statewide saying: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn’t reach people who aren’t on the social media platform.
A revised alert informing of the “false alarm” didn’t reach phones until 38 minutes later, according to the time stamp on images people shared on social media.
Pai said in a statement on Sunday an FCC investigation is well under way into the false alert that sounded on hundreds of thousands of mobile phones across Hawaii.
Officials are gathering facts about how Saturday’s false alert was issued.
Pai says information collected so far shows it appears Hawaii did not have safeguards or process controls in place.
Hawaii governor David Ige apologised for the “pain and confusion” caused by the alert.
Hawaii US senator Brian Schatz tweeted the false alarm was “totally inexcusable” and was caused by human error.
“There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process,” he wrote.
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi said the error happened when someone hit the wrong button.
“We made a mistake,” he said.
The incident prompted defence agencies including the Pentagon and the US Pacific Command to issue a statement saying that they had “detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii”.
The White House said President Donald Trump, at his private club in Florida, was briefed on the false alert.
White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it “was purely a state exercise”.
House Speaker Scott Saiki said the system Hawaii residents have been told to rely on failed miserably.
He also took emergency management officials to task for taking 30 minutes to issue a correction, prolonging panic.
“Clearly, government agencies are not prepared and lack the capacity to deal with emergency situations,” he said in a statement.
With the threat of missiles from North Korea in people’s minds, the state reintroduced the Cold War-era warning siren tests last month that drew international attention. But there were problems there, too.
Even though the state says nearly 93 per cent of the state’s 386 sirens worked properly, 12 mistakenly played an ambulance siren.
At the tourist mecca of Waikiki, the sirens were barely audible, prompting officials to add more sirens there and to reposition ones already in place.