State Agency Disputes 'Button Pusher's' Account

A key part of the warning officer’s story is that he claims not to have heard the words “Exercise, Exercise, Exercise,” which HI-EMA said were part of the beginning and the end of the simulation.

by Allison Schaefers, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / February 6, 2018

(TNS) - The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is disputing the account of the warning officer who mistook a drill for the real thing and sent an erroneous Jan. 13 missile alert to cellphones, causing 38 minutes of needless fear and panic.

The now-fired warning officer said Friday that he did not realize that an incoming telephone call was part of a drill because someone at HI-EMA initially picked up a phone receiver instead of putting the beginning of the call on speakerphone.

The so-called button pusher came out of hiding Friday in an interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser at the downtown Honolulu office of his attorney, Michael Green. The Star-Advertiser agreed not to identify him because he received death threats following the incident and says he still fears for his safety.

A key part of the warning officer’s story is that he claims not to have heard the words “Exercise, Exercise, Exercise,” which HI-EMA said were part of the beginning and the end of the simulation.

What the button pusher said he did hear was “This is not a drill,” which led him to send the alert. He said he quickly sent out the alert because he believed the threat was real, and warning officers are taught to “minimize the time” when issuing an alert.

Lt. Col. Charles Anthony, a spokesman for HI-EMA, said Monday that five eyewitnesses — everyone at the job site other than the button pusher — corroborated that the phone receiver was never picked up. “Whoever answered the call put it on speaker,” Anthony said.

Also, Anthony said the incoming call went to a phone that was not set to a secure line. “In a real event it would have been on secure; it was a simulation, so that didn’t happen,” he said.

Anthony said another hole in the warning officer’s account is that “Exercise, Exercise, Exercise” was announced at the beginning and the end of the call. “Theoretically, even if someone hadn’t heard ‘Exercise, Exercise, Exercise’ at the beginning of the call, they should have heard it at the end,” Anthony said.

HI-EMA fired the warning officer Jan. 26, the same day that resignations became effective for Army Maj. Gen. Vern Miyagi, the former HI-EMA administrator, and HI-EMA Executive Officer Toby Clairmont.

The button pusher said his termination letter from state Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Joe Logan said he was fired because the mistake caused “panic” and “embarrassed the state agency.”

The man said he didn’t discuss sending the alert with any of his co-workers because at the time he was sure that the threat was “very real” and he was “100 percent sure it was the right decision.”

Later, when it was verified that the threat wasn’t real and phone calls came flooding into the office, the warning officer said he felt “sick about the panic that the alert had caused.”

Green said he filed a wrongful termination appeal on his client’s behalf Monday and that he likely will file suit against HI-EMA for “scapegoating” the warning officer, who was an almost 30-year veteran of the defense industry.

“They can dispute it all they want. I don’t care what they say, they are clueless,” Green said. “I know an employee that walked away that said they threw my guy under the bus that day.”

Green said no one is disputing that his client heard “This is not a drill,” and that is the statement that caused him to react. Green and the Federal Communications Commission have said “This is not a drill” was a deviation from HI-EMA’s normal simulation script.

Anthony said he was not sure whether the phrase had ever been used during a drill before.

“There were 26 (ballistic missile) drills, and over the course of those 26 drills, there had been some variance in the script,” Anthony said. “I don’t know if this included ‘This is not a drill.’”

For the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s full coverage of Hawaii’s missile alert scare, go to­missilescare.


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