The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has “inadvertently” released the name of the so-called button pusher, the man who sent a false ballistic missile alert Jan. 13 that plunged Hawaii residents and visitors into 38 minutes of uncertainty.
More than five months after public-records requests were made, HI-EMA sent six media organizations, including the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the name of the button pusher in a batch of emails Tuesday. The emails from Maj. Gen. Arthur “Joe” Logan, state adjutant general, former HI-EMA Administrator Maj. Gen. Vern Miyagi and former Executive Officer Toby Clairmont were heavily redacted by HI-EMA, the Department of Defense and the state Attorney General’s Office.
In the more than 300 pages of emails, several entire entries were blacked out, and some contained missing sender or receiver identification. However, redactors failed to delete Scott Harrison, the name of the employee they blamed for the incident and later fired, from the subject line of one otherwise heavily censored Jan. 25 email in the Miyagi batch.
When the Star-Advertiser asked HI-EMA spokesman Lt. Col. Charles Anthony about the inclusion of Harrison’s name, he called it a “mistake.”
Anthony later called back to say that he had been directed to inform the newspaper and all other media outlets that “the inadvertent release of any personal identifying information does not provide any/all media the legal authority to release that information.” Anthony later attempted to recall the public records.
The Star-Advertiser is choosing to release Harrison’s name because it was officially provided by the government. Also, more than six months have passed since the incident, which is of high public interest and occurred while Harrison was acting as a government employee. The Star-Advertiser was not able to reach Harrison or his attorney Michael Green on Tuesday.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) called this latest HI-EMA incident a “real snafu,” especially since the heavily redacted information had been reviewed by so many.
Hanabusa, who is running for Hawaii governor and has heavily criticized incumbent state Gov. David Ige for his handling of the false missile alert, said she believes that public information generally should be made readily available at a reasonable cost. That’s why she is co-sponsoring House Bill 4949, a transparency measure called the “Civil Defense Accountability Act of 2018,” which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
“When you fail to provide information on a timely basis and you redact to the extent that they apparently have, it raises questions. When people look at it, they think you are hiding something,” she said. “However, personnel information is the one thing that government should have protected.”
Hanabusa said she’s also concerned that the email records released Tuesday reveal that Ige’s communications director, Cindy McMillan, edited talking points and statements for Logan prior to federal hearings on the false-missile crisis.
“We thought we were getting independent testimony. If the testimony was collaborated, we don’t know how much of the report was affected by higher-ups. I plan to propose to the rest of the delegation that we call for an independent investigation by one of the federal agencies’ Office of Inspector Generals,” she said.
The false-missile-alert blunder, which became an international story, already has been the subject of a state inquiry and action plan, a Federal Communications Commission investigation and a Federal Emergency Management Agency investigation.
The false alert occurred when Harrison, who was working as a state warning officer at HI-EMA, responded to a drill as if it were an actual event.
An internal investigation conducted by Brig. Gen. Bruce Oliveira pinned much of the day’s problems on the warning point mistake, but a Jan. 14 email to Miyagi from an employee, whose name has been redacted, spreads the blame further.
“I do not think this is a failure of warning point staff as much as it is a failure to effectively train and exercise them on a recurrent basis across all hazards, keep them fully occupied and equipped with current procedures and information needed to do their job,” the email reads.
The unidentified employee’s email supports some findings of earlier probes, which faulted HI-EMA for failing to develop protocol or create a message deactivation system when the agency knew of these shortcomings prior to the incident. That employee, who often worked late at night, also reported seeing state warning point employees “watching movies or TV shows. Usually they are sitting around looking unoccupied. Approximately two weeks ago, it was reported to me by a staff member who came in early that they observed all 3 (state warning point) staff on shift asleep.”
Harrison was fired following the event, which also led to the resignations of Miyagi and Clairmont. HI-EMA has implemented new safety checks and in mid-March hired retired U.S. Navy Capt. Thomas Travis as its new administrator.
But the agency has hardly put the matter behind it. On Tuesday the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats (ALERT) Act, which now heads to the U.S. House.
The measure, which was authored by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), seeks to give the federal government the primary responsibility of alerting the public of a missile threat. Hawaii’s congressional delegation has said it supports taking that role away from the state.
“It’s just a common sense change that needs to be made,” Schatz said. “The county and the state do extraordinary work as it relates to disasters as we are seeing on the Big Island, but they are not equipped to know whether or not there’s an incoming missile. The agency that knows that is the Department of Defense, therefore they should be responsible.”
UIPA K. Hara_Redacted (1) by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd
UIPA LOGAN, Arthur_emails Redacted (2) by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd
UIPA VERN Miyagi Mail_Redacted (3) by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd