The false missile alert continues to be the subject of much speculation over what really happened and why.
First, it was a mistake.
Then, it was that the so-called button-pusher thought there really was an attack and thus, he sent the alert, on his own accord, with no checks or balances.
And early on, no one was fired because it wasn’t the fault of any one person, just a bad system.
Then, the button-pusher was fired and the HEMA administrator resigned.
And there are those conspiracy folks who believe this was no mistake at all, that a missile really was fired by some clandestine group, and shot down in Hawaii waters, and the government doesn’t want folks to realize what occurred.
The opinions have been many and varied. Some people remain upset. Others have moved on and said it’s time to let it go. So we will. Almost.
Gene Park, an audience editor for The Washington Post, had an interesting take recently published on the situation.
He explains that he worked as a Hawaii state employee for a short time, serving as spokesman for a division of the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, and then spent more than seven years dealing with the government as a journalist. His is a valid perspective.
• “Anyone who knows how Honolulu functions can’t have been surprised by the FCC’s revelations. The sad part is that the worker’s ineptitude and the chaos he caused have exposed to the world old, ugly tropes about Hawaiian accountability and competence that residents would love nothing more than to shake off.
• “There’s a strong assumption in the islands that once you enter the state government system, you’re set for life. There are great retirement benefits, union protections, and the ability to move up or laterally across departments. (According to figures drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Hawaii has the second-highest rate of union membership, more than 20 percent, after New York.) The prevailing notion is: You don’t have to work that hard.
“And there is often no cost for screwing up. Vern Miyagi, the emergency management chief who resigned in the wake of the FCC report Tuesday, had made his reluctance to fire the alert author clear: “You’ve got to know this guy feels bad, right? I mean, he’s not doing this on purpose.”
• “Hawaii is a small community with a strong local whisper network (coconut wireless, as it is called), but the community there dislikes shaming. Despite the fact that his salary is paid by tax dollars and that he led hundreds of thousands of people to believe they would imminently die, the man behind the phone alert remains unaccountable to the public. Locals seem nonplussed.
• “Hawaii desperately wants to diversify its economy beyond tourism and U.S. military spending. Plantation agriculture kept the state afloat for the past century but is now a dead industry. The state wants to “develop foundations for an innovation economy and nurturing emerging industries,” according to a government strategy plan. But it’s hard to see how this episode inspires any confidence among investors and start-up wunderkinds.”
• “Culturally, Hawaii tends to reward seniority, not competence. Careers often advance only when incumbent workers resign or die. In 2006, after Time magazine called Hawaii’s octogenarian Sen. Dan Akaka one of the five worst U.S. senators — for sponsoring only minor resolutions and bills that died in committee — then-Rep. Ed Case decided to challenge him in the Democratic primary. A Honolulu Star-Bulletin piece surveyed the widespread reaction to this brazen maneuver. Sample comment: “Wait his turn! Has he no respect for his elders?” Case lost by 10 percentage points.”
• “I often heard residents of my old state parrot a Japanese saying: The nail that sticks out gets hammered down. And people who want reform, or just want to try something new, hear a common refrain in Hawaii’s private and public sectors: “That’s not how things have been done before.” Play your role, and you’ll be rewarded when you’re good and old.
“That attitude has consequences. The FCC report shows it was no secret that the missile alert’s author was inept. Yet he somehow landed the critical job of telling an entire state whether its people could die in a nuclear blast. While 10 years passed, his supervisors did nothing to remove him from a job they knew he was unqualified for, nor did they implement procedures for what to do if someone accidentally sent a missile alert. It took a national embarrassment to dislodge him from his job.”
Park makes good points. Accountability is the key. Hiring people based on skills for the job should be the priority. Work experience should be a factor. Perhaps than we wouldn’t have a million people being scared for their lives.
But, we all know those often are not the key considerations when hiring is done in government. It is often about who you know and taking care of friends.
Unfortunately, as Park notes, it’s doubtful even this false missile alert mess will change that.