U.S. NEWS

State Officials Fire Employee Who Sent False Missile Alert In Hawaii

Federal and state investigations determined the worker believed the U.S. was actually under attack when he sent the alert.

The emergency worker responsible for sending a false missile alert to over 1 million people has been fired from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, officials announced Tuesday.

The employee “has been a source of concern for the same [State Warning Point] staff for over 10 years,” according to a report released Tuesday. The report was written by Brig. Gen. Bruce E. Oliveira, who conducted an investigation into the matter on behalf of the agency.

“He ... does not take initiative and he has to be directed before he takes action,” Oliviera wrote. “He is unable to comprehend the situation at hand and has confused real life events and drills on at least two separate occasions.”

The employee’s co-workers told officials they were “not comfortable” with him as “a supervisor, two-man team, or as part of the [State Warning Point] in general,” according to the report.

“There were statements from other co-workers that they didn’t feel comfortable working with him, that they felt he was not capable of doing his job,” Oliviera said during a press conference Tuesday.

When asked why the worker hadn’t been terminated earlier given his performance issues, Maj. Gen. Joe Logan, director of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said the worker’s supervisor felt he had taken “appropriate action” by counseling and mentoring him.

Maj. Gen. Vern Miyagi resigned Tuesday from his position as administrator of the agency, Logan said during the press conference.

“Maj. Gen. Miyagi ― a respected military lead, an honorable man ― has taken full responsibility for the incident of January 13 and the actions of all his employees,” Logan said.

Another employee resigned “before any disciplinary action was taken” and one other employee faces suspension without pay, he said.

The state’s report corroborated many of the findings published Tuesday in the Federal Communications Commission’s investigation into the matter. Both reports determined the employee actually believed there was an incoming ballistic missile.

The worker, whose name has not been released by officials, sent the public safety alert after mishearing a recorded message that was part of an unscheduled drill, according to the reports.

As part of the drill, a night shift supervisor pretended to be U.S. Pacific Command and played a recorded message that warned emergency workers of an incoming attack. The recording included the phrase “exercise, exercise, exercise.” But it also stated, “This is not a drill,” which apparently prompted the worker to broadcast the ballistic missile alert. 

The recording did not follow the script contained in the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s standard operating procedure, according to the reports.

“While other warning officers understand that this is a drill, the warning officer at the alert origination terminal claimed to believe, in a written statement provided to HIEMA, that this was a real emergency, not a drill,” according to the FCC report.

State officials said initially that the worker triggered the false alarm by accidentally hitting the wrong option in a drop-down menu. But the new reports suggest this may not have been the case. 

The state worker who sent the alert has refused to cooperate with a federal investigation, Lisa Fowlkes, head of the FCC’s Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, said last week during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

“We are disappointed ... that one key employee, the person who transmitted the false alert, is refusing to cooperate with our investigation,” Fowlkes said. “We hope that person will reconsider.”

A representative for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency told HuffPost that the employee wasn’t cooperating with the state’s investigation either. 

An estimated 1.2 million people received the alert on their cellphones on Jan. 13. People in the state were sent into a frenzy, and many sought shelter. 

Many officials knew the alert was a mistake immediately, but it took nearly 40 minutes for the state’s emergency agency to send out a second alert letting people know the original had been a false alarm.

The governor reportedly knew of the error two minutes after the alert was sent out, but it took him 15 minutes to tweet about the false alarm because he didn’t know his Twitter password.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency responded to the incident by saying it would implement new actions to prevent such an error in the future, including requiring two people to sign off on alerts and installing a “cancellation command” that can be triggered within seconds.

Read the state and federal reports below:

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