Senator from Hawaii: States should not send missile alerts

WASHINGTON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, said on Thursday that state and local governments should be prevented from sending missile alerts like the errant one that roiled his state this month.

At a hearing Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) disclosed that the employee that sent the errant alert will not speak to investigators.

Schatz said at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing he was introducing legislation that would clarify that only the federal government could send nuclear alerts.

How to survive a nuclear attack
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How to survive a nuclear attack

What should you do in the event of a nearby nuclear attack? Click through to learn more. 

(Photo by Lambert/Getty Images)

Seek shelter immediately, towards the center of a building or -- preferably -- a basement. Aim for the same type of shelter you would utilize in the event of a tornado. 

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The next three slides are examples of nuclear shelters that exist around the world. 

(Image via Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

The entrance of Shelter Co.'s nuclear shelter model room, which is placed in the basement of the company's CEO Seiichiro Nishimoto's house, is pictured in Osaka, Japan April 26, 2017. (Photo via REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
A fallout shelter sign hangs on the Mount Rona Baptist Church, on August 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. In the early 60's Washington was at the center of civil defense preparations in case of a nuclear blast, with over one thousand dedicated public fallout shelters in schools, churches and government buildings. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
A 'shelter' sign is displayed at the entrance to a subway station in Seoul on July 6, 2017 in Seoul, South Korea. According to the metropolitan government, South Korea's city subway stations serve a dual purpose with over 3,300 designated as shelters in case of aerial bombardment including any threat from North Korea. The U.S. said that it will use military force if needed to stop North Korea's nuclear missile program after North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile on Tuesday into Japanese waters. The latest launch have drawn strong criticism from the U.S. as experts believe the ICBM has the range to reach the U.S. states of Alaska and Hawaii and perhaps the U.S. Pacific Northwest. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Dense materials, including dirt or thick walls, provide the best defense to fallout radiation.

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If possible, take a warm shower -- but do not use conditioner, as it can bond to nuclear particles. 

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Do not seek shelter in a car, as they won't provide adequate protection, and you should not attempt to outrun nuclear fallout. 

(Photo by Noel Hendrickson via Getty Images)

The nuclear fallout zone shrinks quickly after an attack, but the less dangerous "hot zone" still grows. 

(Image via Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Once you are sheltered, do not leave. Listen to a radio or other announcements. 

(Photo via Getty Images)


The alert stirred panic in the Pacific island state. The Federal Communications Commission's bureau chief overseeing public safety, Lisa M. Fowlkes, told the committee that the employee that sent the errant alert is refusing to cooperate with its probe and has not been interviewed by FCC investigators.

Fowlkes said she was “quite pleased” by the cooperation of the Hawaii agency’s leadership but “disappointed” that the person who transmitted the false alert is not cooperating. “We hope that person will reconsider,” she said.

She said the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency told the FCC "it is working with its vendor to integrate additional technical safeguards into its alert origination software, and has changed its protocols to require two individuals to sign off on the transmission of tests and live alerts."

She added that "federal, state, and local officials throughout the country need to work together to identify any vulnerabilities to false alerts and do what’s necessary to fix them." She noted that the correction was not issued for 38 minutes and said faulty alerts must be quickly corrected.

The incident should not be repeated, senators said.

"This was scary," Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune said in an interview. He said he was shocked that a notification for a purported nuclear attack was coming through a state agency.

He said he believed the hearing could produce suggestions and recommendations "for a more streamlined approach about how people get notified" of that type of emergency. "I was shocked how incoherent the whole process seemed."

State authorities blamed human error for the false alarm issued in Hawaii on Jan. 13.

The FCC has said Hawaii apparently did not have adequate safeguards in place and that government officials must work to prevent future incidents.

The Senate Commerce is planning another hearing about the alert, and a U.S. House of Representatives panel is also planning a hearing. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)

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