Panic ensued in the early morning of January 13 after a false alert was issued to cell phones across the state of Hawaii warning citizens of an incoming ballistic missile. The horrifying message read “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
The alert was issued by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) and was retracted 38 minutes later, sparking questions and outrage over why the recall took so long and how it happened in the first place. Officials reported that human error was the direct cause of the false alert and not a result of hackers. According to Richard Rapoza, spokesman for the agency, the issue occured during a change in shifts at the emergency command post. Vern Miyagi, the agency’s administrator, explained that the message was sent after an employee mistakenly designated the alert to be an “event” and not a “test” in the alert software, and the delay was due to the fact that a cancellation had to be issued manually.
While HI-EMA immediately clarified the situation on social media, which was shared by Hawaiian politicians, the obvious lack of rescindment from the same source left many in a panic and unaware of the falsity of the alert. After the event, HI-EMA put in place a system that requires two people to sign off on a missile alert before one is sent out and an automated way to retract a missile alert in situations of mistakes.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, said that the alert was “absolutely unacceptable” and the Commission sent out a press release claiming that “investigation into this incident is well underway.” Pai also stated, “Moving forward, we will focus on what steps need to be taken to prevent a similar incident from happening again.”