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Hawaii worker who sent missile alert thought attack was real

The state employee who mistakenly broadcast the alert across the islands earlier this month misheard a recording, the FCC says in a preliminary report.

The Hawaii state employee who broadcast a false alarm about a ballistic missile attack on Jan. 13 believed a missile was really headed for the island state, according to a preliminary report from the Federal Communications Commission. 

A phone screenshot shows the alert text message sent to Hawaiian citizens on Jan. 13, 2018.

A phone screenshot shows the alert text message sent to Hawaiian citizens on Jan. 13, 2018. 

Alison Teal/Getty Images

The worker said in a written statement that he had misheard a recorded message as part of an unscheduled drill. The FCC's investigation is still under way, but the agency reported that a combination of human error and improper safeguards led to the confusion that resulted in the erroneous message being disseminated statewide via text message and other means. It took 38 minutes for officials to correct the mistake.

In a press conference Tuesday morning, Maj. Gen. Arthur "Joe" Logan, Hawaii's adjutant general, said that based on internal findings, one employee has been fired and that another has resigned ahead of disciplinary action. 

Logan also said Vern T. Miyagi, administrator for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, resigned Tuesday and "has taken full responsibility for the incident ... and the actions of all his employees." He confirmed that the employee who sent the alert has been terminated. (The employee's name wasn't released.)

The incident underscored the speed at which information, true or false, travels when nearly everyone has a smartphone within reach and when alerts, trivial or vital, pop up constantly on the screen.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said during the commission's monthly meeting Tuesday that this mistake shows Hawaii didn't have the proper safeguards in place to prevent a mistake of this magnitude. 

The "presentation this morning makes clear that many things went wrong in Hawaii," Pai said. "I don't say this for the purpose of casting blame or disparaging Hawaiian officials.  We simply need to identify the problems in order to fix them -- not just in Hawaii, but anywhere else where they may exist."

In a statement, Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat representing Hawaii, said the reports strengthened his belief the system for sending missile alerts required more oversight.

"The reports from the FCC and the State of Hawaii demonstrate systems and judgement failures on multiple levels," Schatz said. "They reinforce my belief that missile alerts should be handled by the federal government."

Last week, Schatz unveiled plans for bipartisan legislation that would make the federal government solely responsible for alerting the public to missile threats.

First published Jan. 30, 11:50 a.m. PT.
Update, 3:30 p.m.: Adds details from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency press conference.
Update, 5:42 p.m.: Adds statement from Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz.

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