Public Safety & Homeland Security

Investigations Into Hawaii Missile Scare Intensify

Residents and tourists spent a terrifying Saturday morning thinking that an attack was imminent all because a state employee in a Diamond Head bunker clicked his mouse twice.

by Allison Schaefers, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / January 16, 2018
Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater, and high-rises are seen in Honolulu on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. A push alert that warned of an incoming ballistic missile to Hawaii and sent residents into a full-blown panic was a mistake, state emergency officials said. AP/Audrey McAvoy

(TNS) - Hawaii leaders are taking heat from the highest level for the colossal blunder that resulted in 38 minutes of terror for residents, who thought that a missile was headed for the islands.

Residents and tourists spent a terrifying Saturday morning thinking that an attack was imminent all because a state employee in a Diamond Head bunker clicked his mouse twice. The mistake shocked many in Hawaii and elsewhere and left them questioning the credibility of the government that they count on to protect them in times of heightened tensions with North Korea.

Now even President Donald Trump is calling for answers. While he praised Hawaii leaders for taking responsibility for the mistake, Trump told reporters who were interviewing him outside his Florida golf club Sunday evening, “We’re going to get involved.”

Trump did not explain his administration’s involvement, but Gov. David Ige’s office confirmed that the Federal Emergency Management Agency called Vern Miyagi, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, over the weekend.

Ige signed an executive order Monday appointing Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara, deputy adjutant general, to conduct a “thorough review” and provide an initial report in 30 days. Hara is expected to create an “action plan” within 60 days that focuses on improving preparedness in the state.

Hara will “be working with all the separate authorities” who are examining the issues and will be able to “implement changes,” Ige said Monday during a news conference.

Hara said his first step will be to meet with HI-EMA. Hara said Maj. Gen. Arthur “Joe” Logan, adjutant general, upgraded the agency’s internal review Monday to an external review, which will be led by retired Brig. Gen. Bruce Oliveira and is expected to be completed within two weeks.

“He’s really looking at what happened to identify any gaps or shortfalls and to prevent them from happening again,” Hara said. “He’s also looking at any personnel action that needs to take place.”

Hara said he’ll start with Oliveira’s report. Next he’ll contact other stakeholders, including the media, state decision makers and agencies like the Hawaii Tourism Authority; the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism; the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs; and the Department of Transportation.

These state investigations are in addition to a probe being conducted by the Federal Communications Commission, which issued a blistering rebuke Sunday to HI-EMA and said that it had commenced with an investigation.

“We are not aware of any agencies other than the FCC conducting a review,” said Richard Rapoza, HI-EMA public information officer. “The state could possibly face further actions from other entities.”

Members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation said Monday more scrutiny is coming from federal agencies and lawmakers. U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said it’s important to investigate an incident that “could have triggered national and international disaster.”

“False information reaching the president and/or Pentagon, faced with minutes to respond, could trigger a nuclear disaster with global implications,” Gabbard said.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa said she and Gabbard would make a formal request today seeking a congressional inquiry into the false ballistic missile alert.

“The goal is to take this opportunity to learn from a very unfortunate and preventable incident to make sure our emergency management and civil defense processes and policies are sound, rigorous and tested,” Hanabusa said.

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono said she will press Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who is scheduled to brief the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on immigration today, for more information.

“FEMA comes under Homeland Security, and they have a role to play in any emergency situation,” Hirono said.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz said he plans to host a hearing or roundtable in Hawaii.

“We will need hearings, roundtables, multiple investigations followed by after-action reports and then real expertise,” Schatz said. “The problem locally is that state government rolled out a program before there were best practices.”

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