Human error blamed in Hawaii missile alert
Vern Miyagi, the administrator for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, has resigned in wake of a false alert that was sent earlier this month-- an event Alaska officials said wasn't likely to be replicated under the Last Frontier's alert system.
Maj. Gen. Joe Logan announced Miyagi's resignation during a news conference Tuesday. The employee who sent the alert has been fired and another is in the process of being suspended without pay.
Logan, the agency's director, said Miyagi submitted his resignation Tuesday morning and he accepted it. Logan also said the "button pusher" has been terminated.
The employee who sent the alert -- creating a-- thought an actual attack was imminent, the Federal Communications Commission said earlier Tuesday. Hawaii has been testing alert capabilities, and the employee for the state Emergency Management Agency mistook a drill for a real warning about a missile threat. He responded by sending the alert without sign-off from a supervisor at a time when there are fears over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea.
"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.
In addition, 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.
The worker, whose name has not been released, has refused to talk to the FCC, but federal regulators got information from his written statement that state officials provided.
Jeremy Zidek, a spokesman for Alaska's Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said Tuesday that Hawaii officials had a much closer relationship with the military's Pacific Command based near Honolulu than Alaska has with the Colorado-based Northern Command. In addition, Hawaii's system includes prepared templates for both real and test missile alerts which Alaska doesn't use.
"Our system here requires either a cut-and-paste or a manual entry of the message, which then undergoes multiple reviews," Zidek said. "It's unlikely that we would send out a false alert; however, if the person thought it was a real alert, human error is always a possibility."
Zidek emphasized that the presence of Alaska-based ballistic missile interceptors at Fort Greely, as well as North Korean missiles' range now threatening much of the U.S. mainland, make the chance of a missile being successfully launched at Alaska "very low." He emphasized that the state's emergency-preparedness measures focus on natural disasters ranging from wildfires and volcanic eruptions to earthquakes and tsunamis, like last week's 7.9 quake off Kodiak.
"People need to prepare for these likely events," Zidek said.
The Hawaii alert was sent to cellphones, TV and radio stations in Hawaii on the morning of Jan. 13, leading people to fear the state was under nuclear attack. "THIS IS NOT A DRILL," it said. For what felt like an eternity, islanders heard an audible warning: "A missile may impact on land or sea within minutes. This is not a drill."
Amanda Thompson screamed when she read the alert. She and her husband threw water and supplies into a tiny closet under the stairs and huddled with their infant and 2-year-old, believing they were about to die.
"We grabbed everything we possibly could -- blankets, pillows, diapers, wipes, food, water bottles -- as I'm crying my eyes out," Thompson said. "We called his parents, and I'm crying so hard that they can't understand me."
It took 38 minutes for officials to send an alert retracting the warning because Hawaii did not have a standardized system for sending such corrections, the FCC said.
The federal agency, which regulates the nation's airwaves and sets standards for such emergency alerts, criticized the state's delay in correcting it.
The head of the FCC has called the error "absolutely unacceptable."
The FCC said the state Emergency Management Agency has already taken steps to try to avoid a repeat of the false alert, requiring more supervision of drills and alert and test-alert transmissions. It has created a correction template for false alerts and has stopped ballistic missile defense drills until its own investigation is done.
The employee in question heard a recorded message that began by saying "exercise, exercise, exercise" -- the script for a drill, the FCC said. 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.
Read more about this story on CBSNews.com.