Gov. David Ige was told last week’s missile alert was a false alarm just two minutes after the warning message was sent to cellphones across the state, the director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency told lawmakers Friday.
Ige, whose office did not get a cancellation message out until 17 minutes after the warning alert, had said earlier in the week that he had trouble making phone calls to confirm the status of the alert as he headed to emergency headquarters in Diamond Head crater Saturday morning.
A Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee erroneously broadcast a missile threat alert that was sent to cellphones at 8:07 a.m. Jan. 13. It took the agency 38 minutes to issue a cellphone notification that the threat was false, in part because state officials mistakenly believed they had to consult with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to issue a retraction.
At a legislative briefing Friday, Maj. Gen. Arthur “Joe” Logan, state adjutant general, who heads the emergency management agency and state Department of Defense, said he called the governor at 8:09 a.m. Jan. 13 after confirming that there was no inbound ballistic missile to Hawaii.
“I got the alert at 8:07 with my phone. … At 8:08 I knew it was a false alarm. … And at 8:09 I called the governor and told him this was a false alarm,” Logan said.
State Rep. Kaniela Ing questioned why the governor didn’t immediately get online and alert the public of the false alarm. Ige had already left the briefing for prior commitments.
A spokeswoman for the governor said the office has no reason to dispute Logan’s timeline of events.
After the governor was informed that the alert was false, he “immediately started his attempt to reach” Communications Director Cindy McMillan, press secretary Jodi Leong said Friday. Ige’s communications team handles the governor’s social media accounts. The call log on the cellphone of Ige’s communication director no longer includes calls from Jan. 13.
On the morning of the false alert, the governor’s Twitter account re-tweeted at 8:24 a.m. the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s cancellation notice — 17 minutes after the cellphone alert went out, saying there was no missile threat. At 8:30 a.m. the governor posted a cancellation message to his Facebook page.
Logan’s remarks appear to conflict with comments the governor made during a news conference Monday evening, recalling his experience receiving the alert.
“I did receive the alert on my cellphone. I was preparing to leave for a function. I got the alert,” he said Monday, flanked by Logan and other emergency management officials. “I did prepare to leave for Diamond Head, which is the process that we have scripted out. I did make a couple phone calls — tried to make a couple phone calls — to confirm the status of the alert. I tell you, many of my phone calls were not able to be completed.”
McMillan said Friday that she didn’t see any “huge or obvious” differences with Logan’s timeline and what Ige has previously said.
“He said many of his calls were dropped, he was trying to get through. And he was on his way out. Beyond that … I know you guys are trying to track this minute by minute, and I appreciate that. But in this case I’m afraid I’m unable to provide anything other than what has been said.”
Much of Friday’s 2-1/2-hour legislative briefing was a recap of what officials have already been saying since the mistake: that the error was unacceptable and that they are working to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
The governor and emergency management officials fielded questions from nearly 30 lawmakers who sit on the House Public Safety Committee; House Veterans, Military and International Affairs and Culture and the Arts Committee; and the Senate Government Operations and Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs committees.
“We will make changes as issues are identified,” Ige said of a report he’s tasked Hawaii National Guard Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara to draft with recommendations to improve the state’s emergency preparedness. An action plan is due in 30 days and a more comprehensive report in 60 days.
“Going forward, I have directed my Cabinet and the (Hawaii) Emergency Management Agency to focus on engaging our entire community in preparedness efforts so everyone will be able to understand what they need to do to keep themselves and their families safe,” the governor said.
Following the hearing, some state lawmakers said they aren’t convinced the necessary controls are in place to prevent a similar error.
“I do have concerns that the internal controls that supposedly were there — I’m not sure that, other than making some of these changes, that this kind of thing could not happen again. Maybe not the exact same thing, but something similar,” Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, chairwoman of the Senate Government Operations Committee, said afterward.
“When I heard that this ‘drill’ had been run 26 times and that the people in charge didn’t recognize at all that something like this could have happened … Nothing was thought through as to guidance for how to deal with this thing before instilling fear in the public,” she said.
Sen. Rosalyn Baker said the state has a lot of work ahead to rebuild public trust.
“One of the biggest things that is concerning to all of us is that public trust and the public faith in our emergency management system have been harmed, hopefully not irreparably,” Baker said. “Are there any policy recommendations you’re anticipating will be coming to the Legislature that will further the efforts to rebuild the trust?” she asked Ige.
The governor said there likely will be but that he didn’t have any specifics.
Several lawmakers suggested that the U.S. Pacific Command — which is headquartered at Camp Smith on Oahu and includes seven of the world’s 10 largest standing armies — should be in charge of sending out public warnings about missile threats.
“If an actual ballistic missile was launched, wouldn’t U.S. PACOM be the entity that would actually detect the missile threat?” Rep. Cedric Gates asked, reasoning that the military command could more quickly alert the public.
“We are in constant communications with PACOM, and we have discussed this on a number of occasions and we will continue to discuss about the role and responsibilities,” Ige said. “I do think that it’s very important that the state maintain control of the alert system.”
Logan said according to experts, the flight time of an intercontinental missile from North Korea to Hawaii is approximately 20 minutes. He said it takes roughly five minutes after a launch to determine the direction and likely target of such a missile.
“This means,” he said, “that there would be approximately 15 minutes between the notification that we are under a ballistic missile threat and the attack.”