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The state employee whose errant click of a computer mouse sent a message to thousands of Hawaii residents telling them that a ballistic missile was heading toward the islands has been fired, according to officials with the state Department of Defense.
A second casualty of the slip-up is Vern Miyagi, a retired major general with the U.S. Army, who was the administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency at the time of the Jan. 13 false alert. Miyagi resigned Tuesday morning.
State officials announced the staff shake-up Tuesday at the same time they released the findings of their internal investigation.
The Federal Communications Commission also released new information Tuesday indicating that the state employee who mistakenly sent out the alert believed an actual attack was underway.
The state’s investigation found that the employee had confused emergency drills with real threats at least two times prior, once during a fire incident test and again during a tsunami warning test, according to Brig. General Bruce Oliveira, who led the internal investigation. Alerts didn’t go out to the public in those two instances, emergency officials said.
The employee has a history of performance problems and has been a “source of concern” for more than 10 years, according to the report.
Several of his colleagues stated during the investigation that they were not comfortable with having him as a supervisor, part of a two-person team, or even as a member of the state warning apparatus in general.
“There probably should have been actions taken” to address the situation, said Lt. Col. Charles Anthony, a state emergency management spokesman.
The employee’s status as part of the Hawaii Government Employees Association would not have prevented HEMA from directly addressing the issues with him, Anthony said.
There “may” be documents in the employee’s personnel records chronicling the issues, Anthony said, adding that he couldn’t specify further.
“Employee 1,” as the staffer is called in the report, “does not take initiative and has to be directed before he takes action,” the report states. “He is unable to comprehend the situation at hand and has confused real life events and drills on at least two separate occasions.”
He is described as the only employee to not hear the words “EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE” when the drill was initiated. Instead, he said he heard the words “This is not a drill” — which officials say was also part of the script that day — and that caused him to send out the alert.
The report also said the employee did not respond well in the minutes after the mistake.
At 8:12 a.m., five minutes after the missile alert was sent, another official told the man to send out a cancellation of the alert, but instead he “just sat there and didn’t respond.”
It took someone taking control of Employee 1’s mouse to send out the cancellation message to stop the false alarm from being rebroadcast. “At no point did Employee 1 assist in the process,” the report states.
Another HEMA employee who was in part responsible for the protocols in place Jan. 13 is facing suspension. Officials declined to identify that person’s position since they haven’t taken action yet.
That employee wasn’t in the building or on duty the morning of the missile alert, Anthony said.
Toby Clairmont resigned Friday as executive officer for the emergency management department.
While Clairmont said the report released Tuesday does a good job of analyzing how the false alarm was sent out, he said it misses the bigger picture.
He said that while he worked for the state it was difficult for him to make purchases and hire competent staff, a process that he said can take up to six months. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, he said, was understaffed by about 25 percent.
Blaming a single individual — namely, the low-level employee who was fired — is not the right way to go, Clairmont said. In many respects, he said the employee was set up for failure.
“I can see how you can get confused. On the one hand you’re being told that this is an exercise and then on the other hand you’re being told this is not a drill.”
Clairmont said employees weren’t properly trained to use the new warning system. The agency also had not yet planned for a situation in which a false alert would be sent out to the public.
“It was moving so fast that we didn’t have time to work on all of these things we’re identifying right now,” Clairmont said. “The push was to get the warning system up, so there wasn’t time for people to work out all the small details.”
The revelation from the FCC is the first indication that the alert was purposely sent. State officials had previously only said it was sent in error.
Asked why the state didn’t announce that details earlier, Gov. David Ige said, “To present the information piecemeal would have been inappropriate.”
Ige said that he just became aware of that detail Monday afternoon.
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency worker believed the attack was real because of a mistake in how the drill was initiated during a shift change, the FCC said in a report.
Both shift supervisors were in the hallway outside the warning point room as the outgoing supervisor made the call into the room mimicking U.S. Pacific Command, according to Oliveira.
He added that at least one supervisor should have been inside the room with the officers.
Neither supervisor is facing disciplinary action, according to Anthony.
There was no requirement to double-check with a colleague or get a supervisor’s approval before sending the blast to cellphones, TV and radio stations statewide, the agency said.
“There were no procedures in place to prevent a single person from mistakenly sending a missile alert” in Hawaii, said James Wiley, a cybersecurity and communications reliability staffer at the FCC.
Compounding the problem was that the agency lacked any preparation in how to correct the false alert that left residents and tourists believing that their lives were about to end.
The federal agency, which regulates the nation’s airwaves and sets standards for such emergency alerts, criticized the state’s delay in correcting it.
In addition, software at Hawaii’s emergency agency used the same prompts for both test and actual alerts, and it generally used prepared text that made it easy for a staffer to click through the alerting process without focusing enough on the text of the warning that would be sent.
Watch this video for advice on what to do in case of a real attack:
The FCC said the state Emergency Management Agency has already taken steps to try to avoid a repeat of the false alert, requiring more supervision of drills and alert and test-alert transmissions. It has created a correction template for false alerts and has stopped ballistic missile defense drills until its own investigation is done.
HEMA’s State Warning Point had conducted 26 prior internal drills on the ballistic missile alert before the drill went awry Jan. 13.
The only other instance that officials could find where the drill took place during a shift change was just hours prior, during the previous shift change, according to Oliveira.
He added that it’s not clear how many times prior – if at all – the now-fired employee participated in those drills.
Brig. Gen. Moses Kaoiwi, the staff director of Joint Staff for the Hawaii National Guard, will serve as Miyagi’s interim replacement.
A broader review of the general state of the state’s management agency from Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara is slated to be done in about two weeks.
Read the Hawaii Department of Defense report here:
Material from the Associated Press is included in this story.