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Image credit: Marco Garcia / Reuters

Hawaii officials fire officer who triggered false missile alarm

And the administrator responsible has resigned.
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Marco Garcia / Reuters

On January 13th, an officer of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) triggered a missile alert that plunged residents statewide into temporary chaos before the alarm was called off as a mistake. While news emerged yesterday that the employee actually believed the attack was real after misinterpreting a message, and therefore didn't trip the alarm in error, that wasn't a good enough reason to panic the nation. The officer has been fired and the emergency management leader responsible for the agency, Vern Miyagi, has resigned.

Another unnamed HI-EMA official has quit before facing disciplinary action and a fourth employee was suspended without pay, but it isn't clear yet what either of their roles were in the fiasco. As state and FCC investigations into the events of January 13th have revealed, the fired officer wasn't required to check with a colleague or get managerial approval before sending the emergency blast to mobile phones, TV and radio stations across the state.

There weren't safeguards in place to prevent one employee from erroneously warning the whole state on their own, an FCC staffer told Time. The test and real alerts used the exact same prompts and language, which ended up confusing the fired officer. Further, the state didn't have procedures to correct mistaken alerts at all. The messaging disaster served as a grim dry run that revealed a widespread unpreparedness to handle if, and when, this emergency warning system went awry.

This was the sobering lesson the exiting HI-EMA administrator Miyagi left in a statement sent out by the agency on his behalf, which read in part:

"To the people of Hawaii, recent events have cast a bright light on our emergency preparedness, and caused many of you to consider whether you are ready for the emergencies we will surely face. Don't let that feeling pass without taking action. Here it is from me one last time: Know where to go, what to do, and when to do it. Have a plan. Be safe, and know that whatever happens, good and courageous people will be there to help."

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