February 17, 2018

Human Error Abounded in Hawaii's Missile False Alarm

31 January 2018, 09:42 | Kara Nash

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard

It said in a report the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency worker responsible for the alert believed an attack was real because of a mistake in how the drill was initiated during a shift change.

BRIAN NAYLOR, BYLINE: It all started with a phone call.

As the FCC report outlines, HEMA has been "actively testing its alert and warning capabilities over the past year".

Not only was the system new but managers chose to push it to its limits - simulating a live ballistic missile defense drill, with no notice, specifically as the shift changed at 8am. "While such an alert addressed a matter of the utmost gravity, there was no requirement in place for a warning officer to double check with a colleague or get signoff from a supervisor before sending such an alert". The day-shift supervisor thought the test was aimed at outgoing night-shift workers and was unprepared to supervise the test.

What happened next is the ballistic missile version of Who's on First. That supervisor played back a recording which began by saying "exercise" three times. He reportedly did not hear the phrase "exercise, exercise, exercise", indicating the recording was indeed a drill.

It was known that Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency had planned to send a test alert to internal systems on the morning of the 13th, but that somehow this alert leaked out into the public communications systems. The message, unfortunately, did "not follow the script contained in HI-EMA's standard operating procedure for this drill", according to the FCC.

Why in fark would you design a drill that includes the phrase "This is not a drill", particularly in an audio drill? The recording ended with "exercise, exercise, exercise" once more. The other human error identified in the report was that of warning officer, who failed to recognize the message as part of an exercise while other warning officers on duty did, it said.

The officer who issued the alert heard, "This is not a drill" but did not hear, "Exercise, exercise, exercise".

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The FCC has been investigating the matter and shows a freakish development in the incident, where Hawaiian residents were left scrambling after receiving message about an incoming missile attack. However, all other SWP members clearly heard, "EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE" at the beginning and end of the drill.

Remember the whole Hawaii false missile alert that went out?

Wiley said the FCC was unable to "fully evaluate" the assertion the employee believed it was an actual attack.

The state "didn't have reasonable safeguards in place to prevent human error from resulting in the tranmission of a false alert", the statement said.

Wiley added that the confirmation prompts employees see before alerts are transmitted contain "the same language irrespective of whether the message [is] a test or actual alert".

So that's why the worker responsible for America's collective panic attack a few weeks ago didn't want to be interviewed by the FCC about it. Turns out this wasn't a bad yet understandable mistake in which an overworked clerk selected the wrong option from an admittedly confusing emergency-alert interface. The alert was sent just two minutes later, at 8.07am. Had this required a two-person team to execute, the alert likely wouldn't have gone out.

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