Another False Emergency Warning Accidentally Activated in Hawaii

Similar to the Jan. 13, 2018, false missile alert, it was a government employee at the Honolulu Police Department undergoing routine training Wednesday who sounded the sirens heard across Oahu and in Kahului on Maui.

by Leila Fujimori, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / September 19, 2019

(TNS) — Oops, they did it again … another false emergency alert heard across the island!

Similar to the Jan. 13, 2018, false missile alert, it was a government employee undergoing routine training Wednesday afternoon who sounded the sirens heard across Oahu and in Kahului on Maui.

A brief erroneous sounding of the siren warning system led Oahu and Maui residents to wonder whether there was an actual threat. Some residents called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to see if there was a tsunami headed this way. Calls to 911 lit up police dispatch lines, and the

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency phone lines were busy.

A Honolulu Police Department employee at the main station’s dispatch center on South Beretania Street was undergoing training on a live console on how to activate the emergency siren.

“Unfortunately, it was accidentally activated,” said Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard. “I apologize for any inconvenience, and especially after the false missile crisis.”

However, Wednesday’s error was unlike the false missile alert where the state HI-EMA worker who pushed the button actually thought the alert was a real threat, despite the words “exercise, exercise, exercise” preceding and following the ballistic missile warning.

And unlike the 2018 alert that came over smartphones and caused public panic, this one involved the outdoor warning system that was audible across Oahu.

Another marked difference was that within nine minutes, police sent out an alert marked urgent via the HNL Info app on cellphones that the siren warning was an accidental activation. And an HPD spokeswoman also quickly notified the media, so they could inform the public.

The Honolulu mayor’s office quickly put out the word on social media, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Initially, the city’s Department of Emergency Management was investigating whether there were malfunctioning sirens, the mayor’s spokesman said in a statement at 5:17 p.m., saying, “THERE IS NO REASON TO BE ALARMED.”

That quickly put people at ease, unlike the 2018 debacle that left people fearing for their lives for the 38 minutes it took for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to correct the false alarm.

Meanwhile HI-EMA officials were probably relieved Wednesday to learn it was not their agency that made the mistake.

They issued a news release titled, “Erroneous Siren Sounding” at 5:49 p.m. saying it was the police department and not HI-EMA that triggered the false alert during a training exercise.

Ironically, many judged with skepticism the 2018 alert that read “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT DRILL” because it was not accompanied by the siren warning system.

Ballard said the department will look into purchasing training consoles.

“All of our dispatchers are trained — supervisors and dispatchers —” on how to activate the emergency sirens.

“It’s been going on for years, ” said Ballard, adding that she could not recall it a false alert ever happening before.

“We should not be training on the live consoles for the emergency sirens.”

“Even though this was the first time it’s ever happened, it shouldn’t have happened,” she said. “It caused people to be concerned. and that’s not fair to the public.”

She said that during the minutes before notification, “we had to find out what was going on. We didn’t want to cancel it if something was going on.”

In the 2018 botched missile defense drill, the midnight-shift supervisor informed the incoming supervisor during an 8 a.m. shift change at HI-EMA headquarters at Diamond Head of his intention to run the drill.

A communication breakdown resulted in the day-shift supervisor not being in the right location to supervise his warning officers when it began.

A warning officer thought it was real and transmitted a live alert at 8:07 a.m., but the “NO missile threat to Hawaii” was not issued until 8:45 a.m.

Gov. David Ige was told about the error two minutes after the alert went out, but his office did not send out a cancellation message until 17 minutes later because he didn’t know his Twitter account password.

The HI-EMA staffer who issued the alert was fired, two officials resigned and a third was suspended.

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