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Employee terminated, HI-EMA head resigns after false missile war - Honolulu, Hawaii news, sports & weather - KITV Channel 4

Employee terminated, HI-EMA head resigns after false missile warning

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HONOLULU (AP) -

Hawaii’s emergency management leader has resigned and a state employee who sent an alert falsely warning of an incoming ballistic missile has been fired, officials said Tuesday, after the mistake caused widespread panic earlier this month.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi stepped down Tuesday, state Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Joe Logan said. A second agency worker quit before disciplinary action was taken and another was being suspended without pay, Logan said in announcing results of an internal investigation.

The fallout came the same day the Federal Communications Commission revealed that the worker who pushed out the alert thought an actual attack was imminent. It was the first indication the Jan. 13 alert was purposely sent, adding another level of confusion to the misstep that left residents and tourists believing their lives were about to end.

The state emergency 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.

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. 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.

The worker who filed the false alert has refused to cooperate with state or federal investigations beyond providing a written statement. He has been reassigned within the Hawaii emergency management division and no longer has access to the alert system.

The employee heard a recorded message that began by saying “exercise, exercise, exercise” — the script for a drill, the FCC said. Then the recording used language that is typically used for a real threat, not a drill: “this is not a drill.” The recording ended by saying “exercise, exercise, exercise.”

He did not hear the “exercise, exercise, exercise” part of the message and believed the threat was real, according to the employee’s statement. He responded by sending an alert.

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.

Miyagi released the following statement:

I want to thank Governor David Ige and Maj. Gen. Joe Logan for giving me the opportunity to administer the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and serve the people of Hawaii. It has been an honor and a privilege, and I will always look upon it as one of the finest most rewarding challenges in my life.

To everyone I have worked with at HI-EMA, thank you. None of us could have done this alone; it took an effort by a skilled, dedicated and professional team who shared an absolute commitment to the safety and security of our community. We faced some big events, from Iselle and the Iao Valley flood, to threats like the Puna Lava Flow and Dengue Fever. We prepared for numerous tsunamis and hurricanes, and helped Hawaii come to grips with the idea of a North Korean missile. I encourage you to look back on each of those events and remember how important your efforts were to our families and neighbors, the people who rely on us. You have the skills and capacity to do what Hawaii needs. Don’t give up. Never quit. Lives depend on you.

And to the people of Hawaii, recent events have cast a bright light on our emergency preparedness, and caused many of you to consider whether you are ready for the emergencies we will surely face. Don’t let that feeling pass without taking action. Here it is from me one last time: Know where to go, what to do, and when to do it. Have a plan. Be safe, and know that whatever happens, good and courageous people will be there to help.


A Hawaii employee who mistakenly sent an alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile earlier this month, creating a panic across the state, thought an actual attack was imminent, the Federal Communications Commission said Tuesday.

Click here to read the full report.

Hawaii has been testing alert capabilities, and the employee for the state Emergency Management Agency mistook a drill for a real warning about a missile threat. He responded by sending the alert without sign-off from a supervisor at a time when there are fears over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea.

“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. There was no requirement to double-check with a colleague or get a supervisor’s approval, he said.

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.

The worker, whose name has not been released, has refused to talk to the FCC, but federal regulators got information from his written statement that state officials provided. The employee still works at the state Emergency Management Agency but has been reassigned to a job without access to the warning system.

The alert was sent to cellphones, TV and radio stations in Hawaii on Jan. 13, leading people to fear the state was under nuclear attack. It took 38 minutes for officials to send an alert retracting the warning because Hawaii did not have a standardized system for sending such corrections, the FCC said.

The federal agency, which regulates the nation’s airwaves and sets standards for such emergency alerts, criticized the state’s delay in correcting it.

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.

The employee in question heard a recorded message that began by saying “exercise, exercise, exercise” — the script for a drill, the FCC said. Then the recording used language that is typically used for a real threat, not a drill: “this is not a drill.” The recording ended by saying “exercise, exercise, exercise.”

The worker did not hear the “exercise, exercise, exercise” part of the message and believed the threat was real, according to the employee’s statement. He responded by sending an alert.