A look back: Miscommunication led to confusion about test alert
The events leading to the botched ballistic missile defense drill on Jan. 13, 2018, began with an 8 a.m. shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency headquarters at Diamond Head.
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The events leading to the botched ballistic missile defense drill on Jan. 13, 2018, began with an 8 a.m. shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency headquarters at Diamond Head, during which a midnight-shift supervisor informed the incoming supervisor of his intention to run the drill.
A communication breakdown resulted in the day-shift supervisor not being in the proper location to supervise his warning officers when the drill began, according to an April 10 report on the incident by the Federal Communications Commission.
During the exercise, a test alert was transmitted to the State Warning Point, which receives and disseminates emergency information. Despite repetition of the phrase “exercise, exercise, exercise” before and after the transmittal, the warning officer at the alert-origination terminal mistakenly believed the emergency was real and transmitted a live alert to the public at 8:07 a.m.
Although subsequent Hi-EMA postings on social media confirmed there was “NO missile threat to Hawaii,” it was not until 8:45 a.m. that a civil emergency message was issued to correct the false alarm. Gov. David Ige was told about the error two minutes after the alert went out but his office did not send out a cancellation message until 17 minutes later because he didn’t know his Twitter account password.
In the wake of the debacle, the Hi-EMA staffer who issued the alert was fired, two officials resigned and a third was suspended.
The FCC report and a state internal investigation identified multiple breakdowns leading to the incident, including the miscommunication between the two shift supervisors, the warning officer’s failure to properly understand the test message, lack of adequate safeguards to mitigate such errors, lack of protocols for responding to and correcting false alerts, and inadequate training.
Among the changes since implemented are a new requirement that two people, rather than a single person, be responsible for sending alerts and adoption of a cancellation command that can be sent within seconds of a false alert.