Worker opens up after sending false missile alert: ‘I did what I was trained to do’

For the first time, the fired state worker who sent a false missile alert is speaking out.

On Saturday, Jan. 13, at 8:07 a.m., a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee mistakenly sent a statewide emergency alert to cell phones that read: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

The alert created widespread panic, and a follow-up alert wasn’t sent until 38 minutes later: “There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.”

The worker was fired on Friday, Jan. 26, nearly two weeks after the incident.

He has asked us not to identify him because of the death threats, but tells us the state lied about him and the problems he had in the past, so he wants everyone to hear his side of the story.

“I feel pretty guilty and devastated the last couple of weeks. It’s been very hard,” he said.

“Guilty of what exactly?” KHON2 asked.

“I just feel bad about what I put the public through as far as the panic is concerned,” he said.

The worker says when the supervisor sent out the message on a secure phone for the drill, someone was supposed to put it on speaker phone so everyone could hear it. Instead, that person picked it up.

“It seemed very real from the start, and the message that I heard was. ‘This is not a drill,” he said. “I couldn’t hear the message, the beginning of the message saying ‘Exercise, exercise, exercise.’ I heard the part ‘This is not a drill,’ and then I didn’t hear exercise at all, in the message or from my coworkers, up until the point where I sent the alert out.

“I felt sick afterwards. It was like a body blow,” he added. “At the time, with the information I had, I was 100-percent sure it was the right decision. I did what I was trained to do,” he said. “It was a fast-paced, rather chaotic office at the time. They were kind of rushing through things, and the energy felt different than drills previously.”

He adds that the phrase, “This is not a drill,” was never used in other exercises before.

Download: False alarm incident’s internal investigation (PDF)

When we asked the state about it earlier this week, officials said they had used that phrase before, but will no longer use it in future exercises.

“You’ve gone through other missile alert drills before, and you’ve never heard that message, ‘This is not a drill?'” KHON2 asked.

“Right, right. I was 100-percent convinced that it was real. No one said drill or exercise or any words to that effect,” he said.

The worker adds that nobody else knew that he thought it was real, because nobody asked him why he did what he did — not until three days later when he was asked to give a written statement.

“Do you know why they wouldn’t talk to you?” KHON2 asked.

“They trusted the supervisors more than the workers with the story,” he replied.

Something else he says the state lied about: that he had mistaken drills as real events at least two times in the past, and that he was counseled for them.

“That’s a mystery to me,” the employee said. “I was never counseled about any mistakes. Nothing was documented about them. I didn’t sign off on any type of drill mistakes that I made. When I read about it in the news, it was hurtful.”

As far as not cooperating with the investigation as stated by the state and the FCC, he said, “That’s not true that I was unwilling to talk. It’s not true I was asked to give a written statement. My boss did that.”

The fired worker says he plans to file an appeal to try and get his job back, and he’s considering filing a lawsuit against the state for defamation.

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