The unnamed US state government employee who caused a panic after sending out an alert that missiles were about to strike Hawaii has been fired. Three more staff, including the head of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, have also resigned, but the case of the Missile That Wasn’t There still leaves Americans with plenty of questions.
GIF: Missile test conducted by the US military from Hawaii in August 2017
On January 13, Hawaiians spent 38 agonising minutes believing that there was a missile heading their way, after they all received a message on their phones reading, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
Shortly thereafter the official government story was that a state worker had mistakenly pushed the wrong button. But that explanation fell to pieces this week when the FCC and Hawaii both issued reports explaining that the employee really did believe that there was a missile on the way. And that mix up has now cost a few people their jobs.
The unnamed state employee initially refused to cooperate with the investigation into what happened and has now been fired, according to state officials. Vern Miyagi stepped down as the Administrator of Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency yesterday, while another unnamed agency official also quit. A third employee at the agency was suspended without pay, though their role in this mess hasn’t been explained.
“To the people of Hawaii, recent events have cast a bright light on our emergency preparedness, and caused many of you to consider whether you are ready for the emergencies we will surely face,” Miyagi said in a statement released through the agency.
“Don’t let that feeling pass without taking action. Here it is from me one last time: Know where to go, what to do, and when to do it. Have a plan. Be safe, and know that whatever happens, good and courageous people will be there to help.”
The unnamed state government employee who sent the mistaken alert is being portrayed as particularly inept and unwilling to help remedy the situation. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency explains in its official report that the worker, referred to in the document simply as Employee 1, just sat there as others tried to correct the mistake.
From the state report:
Employee 5 directed Employee 1 to send out the cancel message. Employee 5 stated that Employee 1 just sat there and didn’t respond. Employee 3 returned to the SWP from starting the time clock and saw Employee 4 and Employee 10 repeatedly get on the HAWAS letting the Counties know that it was just a drill. Employee 2 was on the phone with Employee 6 briefing them on the situation. Employee 5 was alerting the command staff. Employee 1 was sitting and seemed confused. Employee 3 took control of Employee 1’s mouse and sent the cancel message. At no point did Employee 1 assist in the process of correcting the False Alert.
If the entire situation seems a bit odd to you, you aren’t alone. Why did Employee 1 just sit there? According to the state, the employee had performance issues in the past, confusing two previous drills with real-life emergencies. Why, then, was the employee in a position to send a false missile alarm to a couple of million people?
Maj Gen Joe Logan, state adjutant general, called that a “valid question” in a press conference yesterday, but stressed that perhaps Employee 1’s supervisor thought they were providing the proper “counselling and mentoring […] so that they could perform their job.”
Obviously, they weren’t. In any case, a bunch of people are now out of work and we know what would happen if a real missile attack (from North Korea or even elsewhere) were to be announced: People will panic. And somehow it still doesn’t feel like we’re getting the entire story when it comes to what really happened with the state worker who pushed the wrong button.