Missile threat text alert sent in error after employee pushed wrong button

State officials are apologizing profusely for what they call an “unacceptable” human error.

On Saturday morning, emergency officials mistakenly sent out a text alert that read:

“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

Emergency officials later confirmed there was no threat to Hawaii.

Click here to view the timeline of events.

They promised it would never happen again, and we’re told changes have already been made to ensure it.

Gov. David Ige met Saturday morning with top officials of the State Department of Defense and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

“This should not have happened. We are investigating the sequence of events that occurred. An error was made in emergency management which allowed this false alarm to be sent,” he said. “It was a procedure that occurs at the change of shift where they go through to make sure that the system is working and an employee pushed the wrong button.”

Employees undergo a shift change three times a day.

State officials tell us two errors actually occurred. After pressing the wrong button, the worker was prompted by the computer to verify the alert. He clicked “yes.”

Vern T. Miyagi, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator, said he was not there when it happened, but the mistake was “regrettable.”

“It’s the same person,” he said.

“Did he explain why he pressed it twice?” KHON2 asked.

“I can’t explain that. Like I said, it’s a human error that we’re going to fix,” Miyagi said.

“There’s a checklist that is in place so that should have been followed, and I’m going to find out why it wasn’t or what happened,” he added. “Again, let me assure you that I’m going to look through this, investigate, and this will not happen again.”

From now on, the state plans to have two people side by side to issue the alert.

The problem was made worse when it took more than a half hour to sent out the notice that it was a false alarm. Officials tell us there is no ready-made template to issue that false alarm which caused the delay.

“There was no automated way to send a false alarm cancellation. We had to initiate a manual process,” Ige said.

“Like I said, this is on me. The focus was getting the notification out to the folks. As far as the false alarm, again, I did not focus on getting that template in there,” Miyagi admitted.

Miyagi tells us there is now a template in place and ready to go.

The state is also looking at other options to get the word out faster. Miyagi and the governor admit that the state’s alert system lost a lot of credibility.

“We want the people to know that we are disappointed and angry that this happened,” Ige said.

For now, we’re told no one is losing their job, and all employees will be counseled and retrained.

Officials say despite the error, they want the public to remain vigilant and treat any future warnings seriously.

“Bottom line is if there’s an alert like this that occurs again, take the appropriate action. Get inside, stay inside, and if there’s an all clear given, that’s how you’ll be notified,” said Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara, Deputy Adjutant, Hawaii National Guard, “so we just urge the public to keep with that three things.”

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard says she plans to get to the bottom of what happened.

“What was on my mind was the well-being of the people of Hawaii, and my family’s obviously in Hawaii, and I know families all across the state, over a million people getting this text message alert, wondering immediately, where do I go? Where can I take my family to protect them? Where can I find shelter that’s going to protect me from a nuclear bomb?” she said.

“This is stark reality, sadly, that the people of Hawaii are facing today with this threat from North Korea, and the sad reality that these shelters don’t exist, so the answers to these questions that people were frantically thinking and asking and wondering this morning, they have not been answered,” Gabbard continued.

While the message was sent across the state, not everyone received a text alert. Miyagi says that is also something officials will look into.

“I think it depends on the carrier,” he said, “what is the carrier or the company that sponsors that, but we’ll review that too, because all of them should have gotten this.”

Courtney Harrington, Emergency Alert System director, said:

“What happens the system is set in two places. One is the Emergency Management at the city, the other one is in the Birkhimer Tunnel on the state side of civil defense. There are messages that in there that can be sent out. In most cases, they are pre-written to save time.

“What are the checks and balances to keep from putting something like this out? If there’s none, there should be. If they are, why didn’t they stop it? It’s a matter of moving forward now and finding out what happened.

“The system is a good system. Technically, it’s a great system. This is exactly what it’s designed to do. The weak point of anything of course, is when somebody pushes a button, that they push the wrong one. When you sit in front of your computer and you want to delete a file, you get a big notice that pops up on the screen that says ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ Is there something like that in the system? And we need to check.”

The Department of Transportation said the error did not cause any widespread impacts at airports and harbors. Some planes may have been delayed, but not by much.

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