A brigadier general with the Hawaii Army National Guard will conduct an evaluation of the state agency in charge of emergency preparedness after the agency sent out a false missile warning that caused a statewide panic.

At a Monday evening news conference, Gov. David Ige announced he had signed an executive order authorizing Brig. Gen. Kenneth S. Hara to review “the current emergency response system, including notifications and warnings, and make recommendations for improvement.”

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency sent the emergency alerts warning as text messages to tens of thousands of cellphones at about 8:07 Saturday morning. It took the agency 38 minutes to send a second alert letting the public know that the first emergency alert was a false alarm.

Brig. Gen Kenneth S. Hara was appointed to head a review of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Enterprise after the state issued an erroneous alert of a ballistic missile attack.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

State officials said a worker triggered the false alarm by clicking a mouse on the wrong item on a computer screen while performing a routine internal test of the system.

The worker also reportedly clicked on a second warning prompt that asked if he really wanted to carry out the action. The worker has been reassigned.

Hara, who serves as deputy adjutant general for Hawaii’s Department of Defense, said the evaluation will examine not just the state’s relatively new missile warning system, but also the broader emergency response system that includes tsunami and hurricane warning systems.

He said the evaluation will include various modes of communications and community outreach.

An interim report is due in 30 days and a final report in 60 days.

Correction: When the governor’s office released the image below on Monday night, it was described as the actual screen image that an employee was looking at when he sent out a false missile alert Saturday. On Tuesday, HEMA spokesman Richard Rapoza said it is actually a facsimile showing options available to the employee, not the actual screen he was looking at.

According to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, this is a facsimile of the screen options the employee was looking at when the false missile alarm was sent..

Hawaii Emergency Management

Although the Hawaii Department of Defense adjutant general oversees the Emergency Management Agency, state law says the DOD’s oversight is “subject to the direction and control of the governor.”

The evaluation also will seek to answer the particularly troubling question of why some mobile phones received no alert, Ige said.

Ige also apologized again to the public “for the fear, anxiety and heartache the false alert on Saturday created for you.”

“It was terrifying for all of us – our families, visitors, and especially the children of Hawaii,” Ige said.

Ige stressed that the agency already has implemented safeguards to ensure that there’s not another false missile alarm. And it has created a process that will allow the agency to send out a notice alert immediately if there’s another false alarm.

In addition, Ige said the agency has established better lines of communications across its emergency management network.

Finally, Ige said he has directed the emergency management agency to cease the internal missile warning system tests until officials conclude their review of what happened.

Ige also confirmed that death threats have been made to the employee who accidentally sent the missile alert. He said the threats are “unacceptable and not how we do things here.”

The governor said it was not fair to scapegoat emergency management personnel.

It is still not clear what underlying causes led to the monumental mistake.

Although Ige said the state’s emergency systems are continuously evaluated and improved, the emergency management agency’s administrator, Vern Miyagi, said the system has been operating only since November. The employee who made the error had received the same training as the rest of the staff, he said.

Jodi Leong, a spokeswoman for Ige, said she could not immediately provide training materials, checklists or policies and procedures used by staff to guide their work and prevent errors.

Officials have said the 38-minute delay in notifying the public that the alert was a false alarm was a result of needing approval from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to issue the alert. However, Ige acknowledged that delay was preventable.

“If we had prepared for it, there would not have been a delay,” he said.

Although it was more than half an hour before the agency sent the false alarm message, it did quickly send messages via Facebook and Twitter.  Officials such as U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also were quick to point out the false alarm on social media.

Still, residents were left scrambling for shelter. Ige himself described his actions that morning, saying he awakened his wife and quickly headed out from Washington Place toward Diamond Head, according to protocols.

Asked if he checked his social media apps before embarking, he said, “I did not check Twitter before I left.”

Ige’s announcement Monday evening came just a day after the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced the federal government had launched its own investigation into what he called an “unacceptable” error.

“The false emergency alert sent yesterday in Hawaii was absolutely unacceptable,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “It caused a wave of panic across the state — worsened by the 38-minute delay before a correction alert was issued.”

About the Author