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Schatz pushes for federal control of missile threat alert systems

  • Sen. Brian Schatz

KAILUA-KONA — Gov. David Ige and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency assured the public that newly implemented emergency protocols should guard against a repeat of the Jan. 13 false missile alert.

New federal legislation introduced Tuesday by Democratic U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii removing missile alerts from the purview of all state and local governments, however, would guarantee it — leaving the responsibility to disseminate such information, as well as the potential for any mistakes, solely in the hands of the federal government.

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“The point here is there should be no intermediary between the people who make a determination about a missile launch and notifying the public,” said Schatz. “The people who know for sure should be the people who tell us for sure.”

Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Gardner, R-Colo., joined Schatz as co-sponsors of the bipartisan Authenticating Local Emergencies and Real Threats Act, or the ALERT Act.

Aside from granting the federal government sole authority to render missile alerts, the measure also would direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to develop a notification system between itself and various state authorities.

It also would require the relevant subcommittee of the National Advisory Council to develop best practices for state and local governments to “maintain the integrity” of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, which Schatz said is the backbone for all emergency alert systems nationwide.

With more than 3,000 counties in 50 states plus five territories, all with their own emergency management agencies, Schatz said logic supports a uniform process for something as serious as warnings about intercontinental ballistic missile threats.

Such state and local agencies would retain under their purview notification systems and practices for all other emergency situations.

He expects to pick up more bipartisan support as the ALERT Act moves through the lawmaking process.

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, another Hawaii Democrat, and several co-sponsors including fellow Hawaii Democrat Rep. Colleen Hanabusa introduced bipartisan legislation Tuesday titled the Civil Defense Accountability Act of 2018.

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According to a release, the measure would address Civil Defense alert vulnerabilities, bolster communication plans on state and federal levels, look at nationwide preparedness for missile threats and related attacks and recommend ways to strengthen that preparedness, and “ensure transparent investigations” into Hawaii’s false missile alert via online public disclosure requirements.

Email Max Dible at mdible@westhawaiitoday.com.