73°F
weather icon Clear

Ex-Hawaii worker ‘devastated’ about sending false missile alert

HONOLULU — A former Hawaii state worker who sent a false missile alert last month said Friday he’s devastated about causing panic but was “100 percent sure” at the time that the attack was real.

The man in his 50s spoke to reporters on the condition that he not be identified because he fears for his safety after receiving threats.

He says an on-duty call that came in on Jan. 13 didn’t sound like a drill. However, state officials say other workers clearly heard the word “exercise” repeated several times.

“Immediately afterward, we find out it was a drill and I was devastated. I still feel very badly about it,” he said. “I felt sick afterward. It was like a body blow.”

He’s had difficulty eating and sleeping since, he said: “It’s been hell for me the last couple weeks.”

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency fired him after the incident.

Accused of performance problems

The man’s superiors said they knew for years that he had problems performing his job.

The worker had mistakenly believed drills for tsunami and fire warnings were actual events, and colleagues were not comfortable working with him, the state said.

His supervisors counseled him but kept him for a decade in a position that had to be renewed each year.

The ex-worker disputed that, saying he wasn’t aware of any performance problems.

Details of the incident

While starting a Saturday shift at the emergency operations center in a former bunker in Honolulu’s Diamond Head crater on Jan. 13, the man said, a co-worker took a phone call over the U.S. Pacific Command secure line that sounded like a real warning, he said.

“When the phone call came in, someone picked up the receiver instead of hitting speaker phone so that everyone could hear the message,” he said.

The man said he didn’t hear the beginning of the message that said, “exercise, exercise, exercise.”

“I heard the part, ‘this is not a drill,’ ” he said. “I didn’t hear exercise at all in the message or from my co-workers.”

Federal and state reports say the agency had a vague checklist for missile alerts, allowing workers to interpret the steps they should follow differently. Managers didn’t require a second person to sign off on alerts before they were sent, and the agency lacked any preparation on how to correct a false warning.

Those details emerged Tuesday in reports on investigations about how the agency mistakenly blasted cellphones and broadcast stations with the missile warning.

It took nearly 40 minutes for the agency to figure out a way to retract the false alert on the same platforms it was sent to.

“The protocols were not in place. It was a sense of urgency to put it in place as soon as possible. But those protocols were not developed to the point they should have,” retired Brig. Gen. Bruce Oliveira, who wrote the report on Hawaii’s internal investigation, said at a news conference.

Consequences

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi resigned as the reports were released. Officials revealed that the employee who sent the alert was fired Jan. 26. The state did not name him.

The agency’s executive officer, Toby Clairmont, said Wednesday that he stepped down because it was clear action would be taken against agency leaders after the alert.

Another employee was being suspended without pay, officials said.

The incident “shines a light” on the state’s system failures, the man who sent the alert said, adding that he believes the federal government should handle such alerts.

Testing of the alert system began in November and protocols were constantly changing, he said. “As far as our level of training was concerned, I think it was inadequate,” he said.

Hawaii state Department of Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Charles Anthony declined to comment on what the former worker said.

Officials said the man refused to cooperate with state or federal investigations beyond providing a written statement. He wasn’t trying to impede any investigations, he said: “There really wasn’t anything else to say.”

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
THE LATEST
Sources: Woman accused of sending ricin letter arrested

A woman suspected of sending an envelope containing the poison ricin, which was addressed to White House, has been arrested at the New York-Canada border, three law enforcement officials told The Associated Press on Sunday.

California desert towns told to evacuate as winds stoke flames

Strong winds stoked a wildfire burning for nearly two weeks in mountains northeast of Los Angeles, prompting authorities to issue new evacuation orders for desert communities that lost some homes a day earlier.

4.5 earthquake shakes Southern California

A magnitude 4.6 earthquake struck Southern California late Friday night, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

California homes destroyed after winds push fire into desert

Homes were destroyed Friday by an unrelenting wildfire that reached a Mojave Desert community and was still growing on several fronts after burning for nearly two weeks in mountains northeast of Los Angeles.

Utah’s coronavirus spike worsens as governor studies measures

A spike of coronavirus cases in Utah that began after schools and colleges resumed classes reached a new peak Friday and led the state’s Republican governor to say again that he’s considering new measures to combat the spread of the virus.

Hawaii’s jobless rate ties for third-worst in nation

Hawaii’s unemployment rate dropped significantly since the start of the coronavirus pandemic but was still tied for third-worst in the nation in August.

 
Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a diminutive yet towering women’s rights champion who became the court’s second female justice, died Friday.