Honolulu (CN) – The U.S. Congressional delegation from Hawaii urged the military to take over missile alerts at a hearing in Hawaii today on the false ballistic missile alert that sent Hawaii residents scrambling for 38 minutes on January 13.
“We want a missile alert to start with people who know,” U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz told U.S. Pacific Command Director of Operations, Rear Admiral Patrick A. Piercey.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director of Continuity Communications Antwane Johnson testified that the agency is reviewing and updating their policies and procedures and is working with software providers to update alert programs, during a panel comprised of representatives from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, Federal Communications Commission, FEMA and United States Pacific Command,
However, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said there are too many layers for notification and verification that would be improved if PACOM, which has verification responsibility, also sent out the alert from a drop-down computer menu.
Congresswomen Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa echoed frustration felt by residents of Hawaii at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency for a somewhat perfunctory explanation of how one of its employees mistook an exercise for live fire, and then failed to send out a correction for 38 minutes. The Congresswomen questioned why the system wasn’t updated for 10 years.
“There were serious failures at the point of alert origination at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said. “These errors were human and operational, and were compounded by the lack of safeguards to ensure that a false alert would not be transmitted.”
In the wake of the debacle, Senator Schatz has introduced the Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement Act of 2018, legislation designed to streamline the delivery of emergency warnings by requiring the FCC to set best practices.
The READI Act is a companion bill to the ALERT Act, which Schatz introduced earlier to require state, tribal, and local governments to follow best practices when originating and sending alerts to the public.
Shortly after 8 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13, Hawaii residents received a text message originating with HEMA stating, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
In the intervening 38 minutes before HEMA issued a retraction, residents stumbled through a fog of uncertainty, jamming phone lines and going through the motions of disaster preparation in disbelief. The state had recently resumed siren testing in response to heightened rhetoric between North Korea and the U.S., adding a sense of reality to the alert, though the sirens remained mostly silent.
Radio stations monitoring Rep Gabbard’s Twitter feed and other sources of information actually got out the warning before HEMA sent another text message.