Apr 24, 2018 3:06 PM2 Minute Read
At 8:07 a.m. HST on January 13, 2018, a ballistic missile alert was issued via both the Emergency Alert System and the Commercial Mobile Alert System, in the state of Hawaii. These systems broadcasted a message over cellphones, television and radio stating, "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL." This was in fact a false alert, mistakenly sent by an agent at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HEMA). While running a test of the state's ballistic missile preparations computer program, the agent clicked the wrong notification button and then clicked through a second screen, intended as a safeguard, to confirm message issuance.
While it took less than seven minutes to confirm the absence of a viable threat and begin mitigating the spread of the alert, by preventing the issuance of the alert to phones that were switched off or did not have reception at 8:07 a.m., an official emergency alert recall was not issued until 8:45 a.m. HST. The second emergency alert stated, "There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm."
So, what were some contributing root causes of unnecessarily panicking Hawaiian islanders and leading to delays in correcting the alert?
- An agent of HEMA inadvertently issued an alert when their task was only to test the system.
- The process did not require a second agent to sign-off on issuance of the alert.
- The agency did not have an automated method in place to cancel the first alert. As a result, they had to initiate a manual process after first obtaining authorization from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
What are some lessons businesses and agencies can learn from this event?
- A more robust emergency alert system is needed in Hawaii but this event can also be evaluated by other agencies and companies that utilize similar notification systems. What would they do to prevent this issue and what would they do to correct an error if it occurred?
- Communication is key. Many Hawaiians were in the dark for nearly forty minutes and unnecessary public panic was wide-spread. Particularly in light of the current global climate, the public must be better informed of what actions to take in the event of a true ballistic missile threat.
If you would like to learn more about this event or what actions the US government recommends to take if a true nuclear missile threat is imminent, please refer to these resources: