Hawaii Worker Who Sent False Missile Text Message Alert Thought It Was Real, Investigation Reveals

The Hawaii emergency worker who sent out a text message alert to thousands of islanders warning of an incoming missile attack thought the threat was real, MSN is reporting. What’s more, a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) investigation had revealed that several points of failure in Hawaii’s emergency management system directly or indirectly led to the warning being sent out and also contributed to the 38-minute delay between when the warning was sent out and when it was rescinded.

The Background: What Happened That Day?

On January 13, 2018, at 8:07 a.m. local time, an alert was sent out over television, radio, and text messages, indicating that a missile was headed towards Hawaii.


Many Hawaiians and visitors reacted with sheer panic because the information had recently been revealed that North Korea might be capable of delivering a nuclear-armed missile to the Hawaiian archipelago.

Thirty-eight minutes later, the warning was rescinded, and Hawaiians were reassured that the whole thing was a false alarm.

What Went Wrong?

The FCC has investigated, and a preliminary report released Tuesday revealed that a series of failures led to the events of the day.

According to the investigation, Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency had been testing its incoming missile-alert capabilities, and during one such test, a drill warning was sent out. A worker in the agency mistook the drill warning for the real thing and sent out the alert. He was able to do so, in part, because there was no requirement that he get permission from a supervisor or even a co-worker.

Similarly, the software behind the alert system used similar language for both test alerts and actual alerts, allowing employees to confuse the two.

So, why did it take 38 minutes for officials to realize the mistake and rescind the warning? According to the FCC’s report, Hawaii, at the time, did not have a standardized system for sending out such a correction.

The Aftermath

Since the false alarm, steps have been taken to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

The employee who sent out the alert, whose name has not been released, has been “reassigned” to another post within the agency where he doesn’t have access to missile alerts. He had refused to talk to the FCC, but investigators used his written statements to his own supervisors in its investigation.

Meanwhile, the state’s Emergency Management Agency now requires “more supervision” of drills and test alerts and has made it easier to quickly rescind alerts that have been sent in error. The agency will also stop such defense drills until it completes its own investigation.

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