Missile scare far more than an ‘unfortunate error’

Saturday’s missile scare has been described as an epic failure.

It was.

It has been called inexcusable.

It was.

It has been referred to as something that caused panic.

It did.

And it has been said those responsible must be held accountable.

They must.

One can’t dismiss the severity of what happened. Some people were terrified on what should have been your routine sunny, Saturday morning in Hawaii. We are told by state officials the false warning was sent during a shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency when someone doing a routine test hit the live alert button.

That employee has been reassigned to a job without access to the warning system amid an internal investigation, we are told. No other personnel changes have been made, we are told.

Officials have done their best to assure residents there would be no repeat false alarms. The agency changed things to require that two people send an alert and made it easier to cancel a false alarm — a process that took nearly 40 minutes.

Wow. That’s a relief. We won’t get anymore false warnings that a missile is headed our way.

One must ask, how was it even possible in the first place for one person to push a button that sends such a notice, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” to a million people around Hawaii?

And, one must also ask, how it is possible it took nearly 40 minutes to cancel that false alarm and let people know the world as they know it was not about to end?

As Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. told TGI in an interview Saturday, that this alert went out was bad. That it took so long to correct was worse.

One would think, certainly, a major overhaul is needed. Whoever is in charge of a process that allowed this to happen should be repriminded, even dismissed.

One press release said initial reports from the Federal Communications Commission suggest the state did not have “reasonable safeguards or process controls in place to prevent the transmission of the false alert.”

So we ask, whose fault is that?

As Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz said Sunday, “There is no excuse for yesterday’s false alarm and the failure to quickly correct it. It terrified residents and visitors, and it undermined our ability to notify the public in a real emergency.”

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Sunday put it even more bluntly:

“This false missile alert that went out yesterday was a colossal failure that caused a nightmare. Those responsible must be held accountable. There must be state and federal investigations into what occurred, and immediate corrective action taken to ensure the people in Hawaii never have to go through anything like this again.”

People feared nuclear war was finally happening. It was about to be upon them. And with the tension, insults, threats and tough talk going on between the U.S. and North Korea, there was every reason to believe this could be real.

It wasn’t, but for 38 minutes, many didn’t know that. There were tears, anger, panic, despair. People called loved ones with what they thought could be their final words. Others rushed to be with family. Drivers pulled off the road and bunkered down. Some prayed. Some accepted that this might be it.

How it could take 38 minutes to send out a correction, let people know everything was OK, is beyond understanding.

While we like and appreciate the efforts of Gov. David Ige, the fact is, this happened on his watch. And he, above all, must be held accountable and answer to the people.

In the governor’s defense, here is a statement he sent out Sunday:

On Saturday, Hawaii’s residents and visitors experienced an unfortunate situation that has never happened before and will never happen again — a false alert issued by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency that a ballistic missile was on its way to the Hawaiian Islands.

On behalf of the State of Hawaii, I deeply apologize for this false alert that created stress, anxiety and fear of a crisis in our residents and guests.

I can personally assure each and every resident and visitor that steps have already been taken by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to ensure that a situation of this type never happens again.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is committed to protecting the people of Hawaii, and over the past year it has been taking responsible measures to prepare for the highly unlikely event of a missile attack. As a state government, we must learn from this unfortunate error and continue to prepare for any safety threat to Hawaii’s residents and visitors — whether it is a man-made threat or a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tsunami.

In the next few days, I will continue meeting with our emergency preparedness team and personally talking with families, individuals and leaders from around our state to ensure we reach every household. We must also do what we can to demand peace and a de-escalation of tensions with North Korea.

Again, on behalf of the State of Hawaii, I apologize.

We appreciate the governor’s apology. We’re glad he recognizes this did create stress, anxiety and fear. He should be committed to protecting the people of Hawaii. Something like this can never happen again. It should not have happened in the first place.

It is far more than an “unfortunate error.” This is a miscue of monumental consequences. The fact that the process was in place that allowed this to happen is beyond bad. It’s terrible. Someone was sleeping at the wheel, and that wheel was guiding an entire state. It is careless. It is inexcusable and it is unacceptable. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has great lengths to go to restore the public’s trust. The governor has to convince people this blunder is not indicative of his administration’s abilities.

This is one time a simple “sorry” and reference to an “unfortunate error” just doesn’t get it done. It’s not enough. What happened Saturday demands consequences. It demands actions. It demands answers. We’re waiting.

  1. harry oyama January 16, 2018 12:21 am Reply

    Hey, why not promote this incompetent employee, since General Miyagi and his “team” will never admit they are responsible and keep blaming FEMA for failure to provide guidance, when in fact it is clearly stated in their policies that the State is responsible! The entire staff should be fired, no pension, no nothing!

  2. Charlie Chimknee January 16, 2018 7:43 am Reply

    REASSIGNED, there’s no room for incompetence at all or anywhere else within the Emergency Management System. He or she is a weak leak in a System interdependent on its every member.

    To not dismiss, and immediately remove this person from the EMS, is to coddle or protect this employee, and not show responsibility (and show more incompetence ) by those above this employee all the way up to the Governor.

    By the way, who is this Governor, who was virtually unknown until the #1 voter group in Hawaii put him in office.

    And how can we be sure there are not 2 incompetents looking at that BUTTON right now?

    And who could have not had the foresight to see the need for the EMS TO HAVE A “false alarm” system in place to have an immediate opposing balance to the Imminent Attack warning system?

    And shouldn’t a warning of this magnitude be in the hands of the Federal Government only, since a warning of this severity and importance be of a national matter? WAR….! ! !

    Or is the President too busy on Twitter to be able to handle this part of his government’s responsibility?



  3. Suzan Kelsey Brooks January 16, 2018 9:22 am Reply

    The head of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency should be removed, as should whoever designed this slipshod system of notification. The person in charge of training should be allowed to “pursue other interests”. Simply removing the worker who hit the wrong button does not address the magnitude of the management and leadership failure that led to this event.

  4. HaloHalo January 16, 2018 10:08 am Reply

    To have a procedure for such a sensitive matter require a 2-step process be completed by ONE person shows incompetence on behalf of every single person in that department, starting from the top. It took a Statewide scare for them to think ” OH maybe 2 people should be better.” Makes one wonder what exactly is going on over there. It’s really an error based on 100% lack of common sense.

  5. bob mikkelsen January 16, 2018 10:44 am Reply

    Waiting? For what? A pound of flesh? If this truly was an accident, then let it turn into a learning and improvement lesson. IF it was found to be intentional, then have at it. Those folks are human, not perfect.

  6. harry oyama January 16, 2018 12:25 pm Reply

    Oh my it was a “mistake”, but caused so much panic, that incompetent State worker and his supervisor including general Miyagi should be sued. There was this father who had to choose between two daughters and after giving his good bye to his 10 year old daughter, suffered a massive heart attack through despair, not knowing during those 38 minutes whether he’ll see any of his family again, while none of these State employees realize the great harm they did to thousands of Hawaii residents!

  7. PauloT January 16, 2018 1:01 pm Reply

    No it’s not more than an unfortunate error. We have been apologized to up down and sideways.

    Most of us knew that there wasn’t much we could do but take cover in whatever flimsy way we could while we wondered would we be dead any minute and would our family all be dead too or could it be a mistake? Alternating between shear terror and disbelief plus not being given the all clear for over 30 minutes was terrible. For me our big family was on a group text so I knew they had gotten what I got. That included the small contingent we have on Oahu. That made it even more real and terrifying.

    Now HEMA is getting death threats as if it was done on purpose. If anyone thinks the agency involved isn’t doing everything possible to prevent this from ever happening again, think again. And be grateful this was not the big event.

  8. lumahai mike January 16, 2018 4:36 pm Reply

    Not be be out done Japan had a false missile alert today. Credit for all clear much sooner. I don’t sign up for Hawaii alerts. Had it been a real launch we would know of the launch before they even knew where it was going.

  9. kimo January 16, 2018 4:48 pm Reply

    I believer there are three issues to address;
    1. Why wasn’t the original alert on all media, cell phones, sirens, etc.
    This lack of broadcast is very disturbing.
    2. Why so long to retract.
    This seems to be the main issue now but should be only a part of the discussion.
    3. Why is the State involved in this type of warning in the first place.
    To me this is the big question – we do not have radar or any method of monitoring North Korea. We depend on the military and civil defense for monitoring. They should be the organizations giving the warning.

  10. rk669 January 16, 2018 6:22 pm Reply

    Nepotism or Affirmative Action? Toss a Coin!

  11. Kai Kahale January 17, 2018 8:47 am Reply

    This a systemic problem and perhaps a hack:
    Hawaiians should not be in control of Nuclear Warnings since the potential consequences of a false alarm have global consequences. This should be a strictly US Military Central Command function.

    Also, there needs to be a way higher level of security than the average county worker feels like they should provide. Like some middle age aloha dude has any idea on how hostile government sponsored hacking can take place?

    Here we had a scenario whereby President Trump had 38 minutes to make the mistake of believing a false alarm causing his trigger happy finger to launch a counter attack at North Korea. Watch the movie “Dr Strangelove” to see how this happens.

    This is also an insight on how Hawaiian government works: it is impossible to get fired from your job regardless of how incompetent you are. You, at worst, get “reassigned” – bringing your incompetence to a new department. This is not how an employer can attract the best and brightest to starting a career with them. It is how you end up with the worst of the worst with the smart employees leaving to get a job where excellence is rewarded and incompetence not tolerated.

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