FCC says appears Hawaii had no safeguard to stop missile scare

Jan 14 (Reuters) - Hawaii apparently did not have adequate safeguards in place to prevent a false emergency alert about a missile attack that panicked residents for more than a half-hour before it was withdrawn, a federal official said on Sunday.

Speaking after Saturday's errant ballistic missile warning to Hawaii residents, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said government officials must work to prevent future incidents. The FCC "will focus on what steps need to be taken to prevent a similar incident from happening again," he said.

Officials at all government levels need to work together "to identify any vulnerabilities to false alerts and do what’s necessary to fix them."

See AlsoHawaii Rep. Gabbard calls for Trump to negotiate with Kim Jong Un on nuclear arsenal

The alert, sent to mobile phones and broadcast on television and radio shortly after 8 a.m. local time, was issued amid raised tensions over North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles.

The message, which was not corrected for 38 minutes, stated: “EMERGENCY ALERT BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

"The false emergency alert sent yesterday in Hawaii was absolutely unacceptable," Pai said. "It caused a wave of panic across the state ... Moreover, false alerts undermine public confidence in the alerting system and thus reduce their effectiveness during real emergencies."

14 PHOTOS
Social reactions to Hawaii's false alarm ballistic missile alert
See Gallery
Social reactions to Hawaii's false alarm ballistic missile alert

**Click through the following slides to see how people reacted to the false alarm ballistic missile alert in Hawaii**

(REUTERS/Hugh Gentry)

You need to know the story of KAL-007, a Korean airliner shot down in 1983, to understand why those 38 minutes in H… https://t.co/ZJibpcgoHH
This was my phone when I woke up just now. I'm in Honolulu, #Hawaii and my family is on the North Shore. They were… https://t.co/PNzlvH18sz
So sorry for all the people in Hawaii who went through that — we know someone who’s there with her family. Crying i… https://t.co/koYJPZemis
I woke up this morning in Hawaii with ten minutes to live. It was a false alarm, but a real psychic warning. If we… https://t.co/GuqRCIALgG
We often forget -- and shouldn't -- that Hawaii, though thousands of miles from the continental US, is very much pa… https://t.co/LIsXzrpzQl
Who is being fired for mistakenly sending out an emergency alert of an incoming ICBM headed towards Hawaii? What if… https://t.co/YRM3WoaV2N
Footage of children entering storm drains in Hawaii after the false incoming missile alert https://t.co/qttVDn7dXu via @NatsecPack
In a world where unstable leaders wield weapons of mass destruction, Hawaii is a wake up call. Nuclear buttons and… https://t.co/cE2bW3nLqJ
The missile launch warning also went out over TV in Hawaii. Note how it directly states “US PACOM has detected a mi… https://t.co/2pB9vnYHR3
Hawaii missile alerts were a false alarm, a human error. Thank God. A real threat: Trump is unstable and cavalier.… https://t.co/lsGimQNyd8
I really can’t imagine how terrifying those minutes must have been for the people of Hawaii this morning
legit thought I was about to die in hawaii. at a goddamned doubletree.
Hawaii's nuke alert button guy. https://t.co/27gYUGYKNa
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Corrections should be "issued immediately in the event that a false alert does go out," Pai said. The FCC probe so far suggests Hawaii did not have "reasonable safeguards or process controls in place."

The FCC has jurisdiction over the wireless alerts and has proposed technical upgrades to precisely target them to communities. It plans to vote on revisions to the alert system later this month.

Hawaii Governor David Ige said on Saturday he was "angry and disappointed" over the incident, apologized for it and said the state would take steps to ensure it never happens again.

Ige said the alert was sent during an employee shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and that the state had no automated process to get out the word that it was a false alarm. “An employee pushed the wrong button,” Ige said.

See AlsoDeath toll in California mudslides rises to 20

Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, spoke to Pai on Saturday and praised him for working "with us on developing best practices on the communications side for states and municipalities to make sure this never happens again. This system failed miserably, and we need to start over."

A 2013 government audit found the Federal Emergency Management Agency has improved a federal alerting system known as the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System, "but barriers remain to fully implementing an integrated system."

The system can receive and authenticate internet-based alerts from state and local government agencies and disseminate them to the public.

Some states were reluctant to fully implement a system and that "decreases the capability for an integrated, interoperable, and nationwide alerting system," the report said.

Read Full Story