LIHUE — Calling the Jan. 13 false missile alert an unfortunate event, Gov. David Ige says the state has been busy building a better emergency warning system.
“It’s been a good learning experience (and caused the) review of preparedness and public education,” Ige said Tuesday during an interview at The Garden Island newspaper office.
Ige continued: “It’s about being forward leaning. It’s created meetings and follow-ups to look at what we need to do to be better prepared.”
The false incoming ballistic missile alert was sent out at 8:07 a.m. and was publicly corrected 38 minutes later. Officials informed the public there was no incoming missile and said “an employee pushed the wrong button.”
The incident frightened about a million people throughout Hawaii and led some to fear for their lives.
Jan. 30 information surfaced from a federal investigation that found the employee believed there “was a real emergency, not a drill.” A state investigation released in late January found confusion followed the sending of the emergency message, and authorities didn’t immediately know how to correct the alert.
Transparency was the goal of Hawaii officials throughout the entire event, Ige said, even though wrong information was conveyed to the public. He says it just took some time to sift out the full story.
“At first, with the public statements, we were trying to be transparent,” Ige said. “There was not enough time to interview the employees (before the release of the first statement).”
Now the state is compiling a comprehensive report and the firing of the employee who pushed the wrong button is a step toward restoring public trust, Ige said. Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s administrator Vern Miyagi resigned.
“We have implemented changes and we are moving forward,” Ige said. “(We are) looking for a new leader at Hawaii Emergency Management.”
Keeping the public up to speed on preparedness tips and what to do in the event of an incoming ballistic missile is a paramount priority for the state after the false alert, he said.
Actions businesses should take during a missile alert is one focus, Ige said, because there were many business owners who weren’t sure whether to shelter people during the alert.
“This did allow us to learn more about what we should be doing to be prepared for a ballistic missile attack,” Ige said.
As his campaign for reelection to the governor’s seat ramps up, Ige said he expects the false missile alert to be on the table for discussion.
“Certainly this will be one of many issues that will come up in my campaign,” he said. “Our core strategies stay the same — reach out and engage as many people as we can.”
He continued: “I trust the people will decide about who will best represent (Hawaii).”
He said the false missile alert, and dealing with the aftermath, has taken a toll and has been a big challenge — one of many he has faced as the state’s leader since taking office, he added.
The day of the false missile alert, and in the days following, many theories surfaced about the alert, such as a report from a tour boat situated 100 miles off shore that Saturday morning.
Tourists and tour guides reportedly say they witnessed what they thought to be a meteor blowing up over the ocean at about 8 a.m. Jan. 13. Their theory is a missile was launched at Hawaii and was intercepted.
Ige, however, said emphatically that was not the case.
“There was no missile fired,” Ige said. “It was a mistake by an employee.”
It is important to be prepared, especially for the archipelago state, which has been hailed as America’s gateway to the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
“In the last two years, North Korea fired 35 missile tests. North Korea is making investments into this, so we continue to believe we need to be prepared.” Ige said.