Fake missile alert in Hawaii was sent intentionally by employee who thought threat was real, FCC says

On Saturday, January 13, 2018, an emergency missile alert accidentally went out to everyone in Hawaii, causing mass panic as people thought they were about to die.

WASHINGTON — The false wireless alert warning of an inbound ballistic missile issued in Hawaii on Jan. 13 was sent by a state worker who was convinced the threat was real, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the mistake, which touched off widespread panic in Hawaii, occurred when an emergency services worker on the day shift misunderstood testing instructions from a midnight shift supervisor. Believing the instructions were for an actual emergency, the worker sent the alert, which was issued to the cellphones of all Hawaii residents and visitors to the state.

The episode was initially described as an accident by state officials, the New York Times reported. Gov. David Y. Ige blamed the false warning on an employee who had “pressed the wrong button.”

Although other emergency management officials in Hawaii knew that the state was supposed to be conducting an internal drill at the time, the employee who sent the alert, who has not been publicly identified, told the commission in a written statement that he or she believed it was an actual emergency.

To send the message, the employee had to choose from options in a drop-down menu that included test and real alerts.

When prompted by the question “Are you sure you want to send this alert?,” the employee clicked “yes,” the FCC said.

The commission faulted the state for lacking measures to prevent the human error and, once it occurred, for taking 38 minutes to correct it.

Hawaii “didn’t have reasonable safeguards in place,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said.