He will be known forever as the “Button Pusher,” the man who accidentally dispatched the false missile alert Saturday that generated widespread panic in Hawaii.
I agree that the Button Pusher’s action caused great grief by sending people scrambling for shelter, expressing last messages of love to friends and family that they never expected to see again, but still … there is no way this guy should have to be dodging death threats.
Mistakes happen. It’s the bosses and the governor who bungled it by dithering when they should have acted quickly to let the public know the alert was a false alarm. It’s too easy to make the Button Pusher the pariah. His supervisor was in the same room when the debacle erupted. What about the others? Why didn’t they snap to and let everyone know it was a mistake?
And by the way, he didn’t actually push a button, but rather computer-clicked on a drop down menu on the alert system software.
Colbert says, “No. You keep him on that job. He is the one person on the planet who will never ever make that mistake again. “ (Applause.) He knows! It is the same reason I always go to a surgeon who just got sued for leaving a sponge inside someone. He is on his toes.”
Former Punahou School chaplain John Heidel says his words to the Button Pusher would be: “It is important for you to understand that we are all human. All humans make mistakes. We are not perfect beings.”
Heidel adds that the people threatening the Button Pusher could do with some counseling themselves:
“They have their own issues stemming from fear or lack understanding. The alarm generated a wide variety of human emotions. All the way from calmness to extreme panic and fear. The reality was there that people might die in a few minutes.”
The kind of stress that might generate a momentary, albeit nasty, wish for revenge.
Dan Chun, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, says he talked about the false missile alarm in a sermon at his church Sunday and about the anger toward the man who caused it:
“I mentioned the phrase: ‘He who is without sin can cast the first stone.’ Haven’t we all blown it at sometime? There is a need for forgiveness. But that is not to discount the heartache and stress that was caused.”
In another skit on Colbert’s show Monday, the comedian made up a name for the Button Pusher, calling him “Gary.” The skit features a re-airing of Don Ho singing “Tiny Bubbles” at the Hollywood Palace in 1967. An emergency alarm keeps interrupting “Tiny Bubbles.” A crawl below says, “By the way, when we say seek shelter, we mean dig a grave because there is nowhere to hide.”
The next crawl says the emergency system is manned by “Gary.” And after a false alarm is finally declared, a crawl appears saying, “If any state needs to hire an operator of a single system button alert, Gary is now available.”
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Information Officer Richard Rapoza says the agency has not ruled out firing the Button Pusher, but a final decision will not be made until the agency’s investigation is finished.
Investigation? What more do we need to know? All the employees in the room when the incident occurred know what went wrong. And it’s clear, the bosses at the emergency warning room failed by not getting an IT specialist on the job immediately to reset the computers to spread the word that the alert was a mistake. Instead they made people wait around 38 minutes, wondering if they might be incinerated.
“Thirty-eight minutes! That’s enough time to have end-of-the-world sex,” Colbert jokes. “Then, await death for 35 minutes.”
Rapoza says the agency is collecting and cataloguing all the death threats it has received to turn over to the Honolulu Police Department. HEMA will not make the Button Pusher’s name public.
“No, never not under any circumstances. It would destroy his life, ” says Rapoza.
The employee has been reassigned to another section of the Emergency Management Agency office in Diamond Head Crater, a place where he has no access to emergency alarm software.
“We are doing everything we can to support him and stand by him as a group,” says Rapoza.
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Denby Fawcett is a longtime Hawaii television and newspaper journalist, who grew up in Honolulu. Her book, Secrets of Diamond Head: A History and Trail Guide is available on Amazon. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.