Editorial: FEMA’s alert system shows flaws
Ultimately, it was human error that caused the unfortunate incoming-missile false alarm that rattled Hawaii on Jan. 13 for 38 minutes.
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Ultimately, it was human error that caused the unfortunate incoming-missile false alarm that rattled Hawaii on Jan. 13 for 38 minutes. The culpable employee, plus a couple of his top bosses, are rightly gone after the shaky chain of events enabled by a less-than-optimal system. We’ve all since been assured that things have improved at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA). Let’s hope so.
But the episode also indirectly revealed troubling gaps with the federal alert system — the Integrated Public Alert Warning System (IPAWS) — operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and used nationwide by state and local governments to warn citizens of emergencies, ranging from natural disasters to child snatchings.
Those problems are outlined in a new U.S. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General report, launched at the behest of Hawaii U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono in the wake of Jan. 13. Key among the report’s findings:
>> FEMA operates IPAWS nationwide, but in leaving it to localities to procure warning-message systems from third-party software vendors, FEMA does not require software functions “critical to the alerting process,” such as being able to preview a message before it’s issued or canceling an alert after it’s sent.
>> FEMA does not mandate that the software vendor train authorities on how to use the software.
On both those issues, one would think, local emergency officials would have the presence of mind to spot and close those gaps on their own, without mandatory directives. But unfortunately, not so in Hawaii’s case, since the false-alert rescind was not readily available. The findings should push Hawaii, and all other states, to shore up their systems and training.