Oops – “Incoming Ballistic Missile” Warning Mistakenly Sent
Around 8 AM on Saturday morning, the people of Hawaii received a horrifying message on their phones warning them of an imminent incoming ballistic missile. The message stated this was not a drill, and to seek out shelter immediately. What transpired in Hawaii was nothing short of chaos. As you may have thought, people went into full panic mode. Tourists enjoying a relaxing time on the beach started running back to their hotels, some resorts issued warnings to their guests over PA systems. On the television, a more detailed message scrolled across the screen, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”
For 38 minutes, the people in Hawaii were forced to deal with the thought of imminent doom, with many calling friends and family saying their final goodbyes. Jen Koester, who is on vacation in Maui said, “Once I got the message, I immediately called my parents, and told them I loved them. I really didn’t think I’d ever see them again.”
Only after 38 minutes did everyone receive another message saying the alert was a mistake, and their was no immediate threat. A few hours after the panic had died down, Hawaii Governor David Ige (D) apologized for the confusion, and explained, “a mistake made during a standard procedure at the changeover of a shift and an employee pushed the wrong button.” This has sparked the debate for a much closer look as to how these wireless emergency systems work, and why it took so long for officials to admit their mistake.
That Saturday morning, it turns out that the emergency broadcast system was planning to conduct an internal incoming missile test, meaning the test would be simulating an attack, however it would only be broadcasted to the station internally. At the change of shift, the emergency management employee began the process, and a drop down menu appeared with two options: “Test Missile Alert” and “Missile Alert”.
The employee selected the latter, which caused the alert to be sent out to the public. This particular employee has since been reassigned in the department. Richard Rapoza, a spokesman for the Hawaii Emergency Management System, stated, “All we will say is that the individual has been temporarily reassigned within our Emergency Operations Center pending the outcome of our internal investigation, and it is currently in a role that does not provide access to the warning system.”
A complete investigation has been launched by Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC. He called the false alert “absolutely unacceptable” and relayed the blame upon state-level officials for the error. In a statement, Pai said, “Based on the information we have collected so far, it appears that the government of Hawaii did not have reasonable safeguards or process controls in place to prevent the transmission of a false alert. Federal, state, and local officials throughout the country need to work together to identify any vulnerabilities to false alerts and do what’s necessary to fix them. We also must ensure that corrections are issued immediately in the event that a false alert does go out.”