Residents of Hawaii — along with countless tourists — scrambled to find safety Saturday morning after a false alert warned them that a ballistic missile was heading straight for the island.
Now, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has revealed the fate of the worker responsible for sending out the alert — which appeared on cell phones and TV screens.
The worker will not be fired, but instead will be temporarily reassigned.
“Part of the problem was it was too easy — for anyone — to make such a big mistake,” HEMA spokesperson Richard Rapoza told The Washington Post on Sunday.
“We have to make sure that we’re not looking for retribution, but we should be fixing the problems in the system. … I know that it’s a very, very difficult situation for him,” Rapoza added.
A HEMA spokesperson provided further details to Fox News, saying that the employee will no longer be able to access the warning system.
“The employee who issued the alert has been temporarily reassigned pending the outcome of our internal investigation. He will still report to work within our Emergency Operations Center, but in a different capacity that does not provide access to the warning system,” the spokesperson said.
The worker in question initiated the drill at around 8:05 a.m. local time. He was supposed to choose the “Missile alert” option on a drop-down menu from a computer program. However, he mistakenly chose the “Test missile alert” option instead.
He had one final chance to correct his mistake, as a screen would have come up asking, “Are you sure you want to do this?” according to HEMA administrator Vern Miyagi. But the employee confirmed he wanted to send out the alert, thus sparking panic throughout the island.
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” read the resulting alert that residents and tourists received on their phones.
On TV screens, people were warned to find shelter indoors and remain away from windows.
It took 38 minutes after the warning first went out for the error to be rectified by an additional text message alert, though HEMA clarified on Twitter at 8:20 that there was “no missile threat.”
HEMA has received intense criticism following the incident, with many questioning how it was so easy for one person’s mistake to cause such panic. In response, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced the launch of an investigation into the matter.
“Based on the information we have collected so far, it appears that the government of Hawaii did not have reasonable safeguards or process controls in place to prevent the transmission of a false alert,” Pai said.
“Federal, state, and local officials throughout the country need to work together to identify any vulnerabilities to false alerts and do what’s necessary to fix them. We also must ensure that corrections are issued immediately in the event that a false alert does go out.”
HEMA said a two-person team will now be responsible for sending out missile launch alerts — both for tests and actual warnings.
As for the worker responsible for the error, Miyagi said he feels terrible.
“This guy feels bad, right. He’s not doing this on purpose — it was a mistake on his part and he feels terrible about it,” Miyagi, a retired major general in the Army, said Saturday.
Hawaii Governor David Ige has apologized for the incident.
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