Update: Following the publication of an FCC report on the Hawaii ballistic missile false alarm, the as-yet-unnamed employee has finally been fired.
In the days after the epic mistake, the employee was transferred to another department where he wouldn't be near the emergency alert function. The employee's manager had been fired earlier when the employee was moved.
Reuters reported that the FCC blamed the incident on a series of errors, including confusing wording of the original message the employee received, as well as a miscommunication and a lack of supervision of the test drill by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.
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In an interesting twist to the story of the erroneous ballistic missile alert that sent Hawaiians into state of frenzied panic earlier this month after it materialized on their smartphone screens, the Associated Press reported that the Federal Communications Commission said the employee who sent the alert believed at the time that a missile attack was underway.
That differs markedly from the previous official story, which said the employee mistakenly sent the alert during a shift-change drill that takes place three times a day at the emergency command post of Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency.
According to the Associated Press, the employee mistook the drill for a real warning about a missile, and responded by sending the alert without a sign-off from the shift supervisor.
The alert was retracted 38 minutes after it was sent, eliciting swift criticism from the state's leaders, who said the long delay was completely unacceptable.
"What happened today was totally unacceptable," said Gov. David Y. Ige shortly after the incident. "Many in our community were deeply affected by this. I am sorry for that pain and confusion that anyone might have experienced."
The name of the worker hasn’t been released. He still works at EMA but has been reassigned to a job without access to the warning system.
The emergency management agency provided the FCC with information from a written statement from the officer after he refused to talk to the federal agency.
"There were no procedures in place to prevent a single person from mistakenly sending a missile alert" in Hawaii, said James Wiley, a cybersecurity and communications reliability staffer at the FCC. There was no requirement to double-check with a colleague or get a supervisor's approval, he said, according to the News Tribute
As the NT explains, citing the FCC statement, the employee heard a recorded message that began by saying "exercise, exercise, exercise" - the script for a drill. Then the recording used language that is typically used for a real threat, not a drill: "this is not a drill." The recording ended by saying "exercise, exercise, exercise."
The worker did not hear the "exercise, exercise, exercise" part of the message and believed the threat was real, according to the employee's statement. He responded by sending an alert.
Additionally, software at Hawaii's emergency agency used the same prompts for both test and actual alerts, and it generally used prepared text that made it easy for a staffer to click through the alerting process without focusing enough on the text of the warning that would be sent.
A nuclear standoff between the US and North Korea has ratcheted up tensions on the West Coast, which is closer to North Korea and therefore more vulnerable to an attack.
The North has previously threatened to launch a missile at the Us territory of Guam, which is about 4,000 miles west of Hawaii.
And as we explained earlier this month, Hawaii is in a relatively weak position to respond to a strike. Its isolation offers little chance for swift evacuation and would likely complicate government efforts to provide medicine and food relief. Its prevailing high winds could have an unpredictable effect on the dispersal of radiation.