FEMA: Hawaii didn’t need approval to retract missile alert

  • Associated Press

    Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, questions Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday.

HONOLULU — The Federal Emergency Management Agency said the state of Hawaii didn’t need federal approval to retract a cellphone alert mistakenly sent during the weekend warning of a ballistic missile attack.

Hawaii has had the authority to cancel or retract warnings since 2012, when it applied for access to the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, FEMA said in a statement.


Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spokesman Richard Rapoza said Tuesday his agency asked FEMA for clarification on Saturday about whether rescinding an alert was an appropriate use of the warning system.

Hawaii officials have said the process was one factor that delayed their retraction. Another was writing the cancellation notice, since a retraction script was not kept on file. The Hawaii agency didn’t send a retraction until 38 minutes after the initial alert.

Rapoza said officials weren’t clear on whether they could use the system to cancel the first alert.

“We didn’t want to pile one mistake on top of another,” Rapoza said.

Officials said a state employee clicked the wrong link and activated a real alert instead of an internal test when the mistaken message was distributed.

Hawaii is the only state that is set up to send cellphone alerts about the threat of an incoming ballistic missile. It’s had the ability to do so since November, Rapoza said.

Hawaii is also the only state that has siren alerts that will be sounded specifically to warn of a ballistic missile threat. Hawaii started testing these sirens last month.

The state set up the ballistic missile warning infrastructure after North Korea demonstrated its ballistic missiles had the range to reach the islands.

Hawaii is home to key military bases and command centers, making it rich with potential targets for adversaries.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Tuesday the agency will work with states to follow proper protocols when issuing safety alerts and can quickly retract incorrect alerts like Hawaii’s warning of a ballistic missile over the weekend.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, said it’s clear that human error initiated the false alert.

But she worries that system failures allowed it to go uncorrected for too long.

“This had the potential for being totally catastrophic,” Hirono said.

Nielsen told a Senate panel the department had been unaware that Hawaii officials did not have a mechanism in place to address false alarms and retract them.

She also said the Department of Homeland Security is examining how the U.S. government can quickly verify the accuracy of alerts with agencies such as the Department of Defense.

On Monday, Gov. David Ige appointed a state Army National Guard official to oversee a review of Hawaii’s emergency management process in response to the error.

Ige said Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara will provide a report in two months.


Some changes have already been made, including requiring two people to approve emergency alerts.

Ige said that he had requested the ability to test the mobile alert system, but the effort had been “blocked nationwide.”

  1. thebamboo January 17, 2018 5:58 am

    The people responsible should be terminated.
    This is a gigantic mistake.

  2. arnolld koch January 17, 2018 8:20 am

    Was the button-pusher hired as the result of an affirmative action quota and the desire for more “diversity”. Did he or she go through a security clearance ? Why is name withheld ?

    1. Agroforestry Design January 17, 2018 7:36 pm

      Excuse me, but that kind of talk is offensive and plainly racist trolling. Learn some manners before crawling out of your cave so you can interact with others and not be that racist guy.

  3. windplr January 17, 2018 9:07 am

    Oh, the blame and excuses game is in full swing here.

    “asked FEMA for clarification”
    “Officials said a state employee clicked the wrong link”
    “officials weren’t clear on whether they could use the system to cancel …”
    “didn’t want to pile one mistake on top of another”
    “didn’t have the mechanism”

    If this isn’t the definition of gross incompetence, I don’t know what is. My only hope is that Brig. Gen. Hara will recommend a complete overhaul of a failed system with consequent management removal.

    1. Roberta January 17, 2018 1:51 pm

      so true. And for the drop down system on the computer. The real attack button should not be on the same drop down list. I think they need a separate program for that button. Then there won’t be a fatal alert the next time. You know the government is full of excuses and carefree about most matters. This one was a biggie. That person who pushed the wrong button should be dismissed period. I know people are human and make mistakes but this could have very well killed lots innocent people here and well as Korea. The people in charge of our govt. is so clueless and want to save one mans future while millions of others suffer.

  4. Roberta January 17, 2018 1:53 pm

    Yesterday on the news Japan had the same thing happen to them but not too much said about it. Was it one person or more? They were told it was a false alarm in 5 minutes. So who pushed there button? Is there a conspiracy going on here?

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