Hawaii’s recent false missile alert sent islanders and tourists scrambling for cover and wrought 38 minutes of chaos upon paradise. People made “last goodbye” calls to loved ones, and Hawaii Governor David Ige initially blamed the entire mess upon an employee who “pushed the wrong button.” That nameless worker was subsequently reassigned pending an investigation, and the FCC has now released some unexpected results.
That is to say, the agency has determined that the employee — through a confusing combination of user error and improper safeguards between day-and-night shifts — truly believed that the U.S. was under attack when he issued the alert that blared across mobile phones and televisions throughout the state. The Washington Post reports that the night-shift supervisors chose to test day-shift workers with a drill, and their day-shift supervisor was probably aware of the drill but believed it would be carried out upon night-shift workers. Therefore, no one was prepared when the night-shift supervisor pretended to be U.S. military’s Pacific Command during the drill. Then this happened:
Following standard procedures, the night-shift supervisor posing as Pacific Command played a recorded message to the emergency workers warning them of the fake threat. The message included the phrase “Exercise, exercise, exercise.” But the message inaccurately included the phrase “This is not a drill.”
The worker who then sent the emergency alert failed to hear the “exercise” portion of the message and acted upon the “This is not a drill” part of the message that should not have been included, according to the report. The worker declined to be interviewed by investigators, but did provide a written statement to [the FCC].
And at that point, yes, the worker in question pushed “the wrong button,” but the cause was anything but that simple. FCC Chair Ajit Pai has already spoken out to condemn the lack of safeguards in Hawaii’s alert system, which were further compounded by the agency apparently not even having a procedure to tell the public that the alert was a false one. With the threat of nuclear war from North Korea hovering over the world, one would imagine that someone’s drafting proper procedures as we speak. Let’s hope.
UPDATE – 6:30pm EST: CNN reports that the employee who pushed the button has now been fired and “had a history of confusing drill and real-world events.”