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Hawaii Missile Warning

January 26, 2018

Road sign in Hawaii alerting citizens that there was no missile threat after emergency warning.

Road sign in Hawaii alerting citizens that there was no missile threat after emergency warning.
Photo Courtesy of Wall Street Journal

For 38 terrifying minutes, Hawaiians feared for their lives as a false alarm caused residents to believe that there was a ballistic missile inbound. The alert, which went live at 8:07 A.M. on the morning of January 13th, urged Hawaiians to find shelter immediately, reading “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Within minutes, U.S. Senator Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) took to Twitter to assure users that the alarm was a mistake, and no threat was inbound. It took eleven minutes for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to correct the mistake on Twitter. It took fifteen for Hawaii Governor David Ige to reiterate that the alarm was a mistake after forgetting his Twitter password momentarily. However, for Hawaiians without access to Twitter, news spread much more slowly. After more than half an hour, another alert notified residents that the previous alert was a mistake, and that there was indeed no missile.

The mistake caused major uproar, as Hawaiian and federal officials scramble to explain exactly what caused such a grave alert to slip through the cracks for so long. In the face of rising tensions with North Korea, the alert seemed even more grave. Richard Rapoza, a spokesman for the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency, assures Hawaiians and the press that the false alarm was not the result of foreign interference, but was instead the result of “human error.” Rapoza goes on to note that the emergency alarm went off during a shift-change drill at an emergency command post, and someone simply “clicked the wrong button on the computer,” prompting Ige to apologize for the confusion and chaos caused by the mistake.

In the aftermath, a U.S. Senate panel will be holding hearings on the false alarm, and discussing possible methods of preventing such a scare from happening a second time. U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) has suggested that state and local governments ought to be barred from sending such monumental emergency alerts in order to prevent breakdowns of communication like the event on the 13th. However, the Federal Communications Commission has struggled to get the anonymous employee who sent the erroneous alert to cooperate with an FCC investigation. Despite this, Lisa Fowlkes, the bureau chief overseeing public safety for the FCC, lauded Hawaiian officials for their willingness to work with the FCC otherwise.

Rapoza has insisted that Governor Ige has done the best he could, and does not believe that there was any misjudgment or dereliction. Ige himself has apologized for the mistake and the chaos it caused, calling the alarm “totally unacceptable.” The U.S. Senate’s investigation continues, along with a future U.S. House of Representatives hearing and an ongoing FCC probe.

Anthony Adams
Political Editor

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