On Saturday morning, Hawaiians (and vacationers) spent 38 terrifying minutes sending “last goodbyes” to loved ones and attempting to find adequate shelter after an employee “pushed the wrong button,” which sent out a false alert about a ballistic missile inbound from North Korea. Both Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) and the FCC declared the mistake to be “unacceptable,” but no one is going to be fired over the error, at least, not yet. Instead, the employee in question has been temporarily reassigned pending the Hawaii Emergency Management System’s internal investigation as well as the FCC’s probe of the matter.
The Hawaii Emergency Management System won’t reveal exactly what this employee is doing now, but NBC News relays a statement that the new role “does not provide access to the warning system.” And that’s a good thing, for the alert system in place appears to make the error easy to replicate:
At about 8:05 a.m. Saturday, the worker initiated an internal test by accessing a drop-down menu on a computer program that presented him with two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the first option. He chose the second.
Meanwhile, FCC chair Ajit Pai has warned (on Fox News) that such mistakes can contribute to a “boy who cried wolf” effect, which is all too easy to believe and dangerous. If Kim Jong-un actually targets Hawaii with a missile, any loss of confidence in the alert system could be fatal. And since the sense of terror persisted for 38 minutes, officials’ fears are not unfounded, even with the reality that Cold War-era nuclear siren tests are back on a monthly basis.