Hawaii emergency management worker who sent false missile alert: I was '100 percent sure' it was real

HONOLULU — The Hawaii emergency management worker who sent a false alert last month warning of an imminent missile attack says he was convinced the threat was real and "100 percent sure" he was doing the right thing.

"I did what I was trained to do," said the worker, who spoke to NBC News on Friday on the condition of anonymity because of threats against his life.

The mistake sparked panic on Jan. 13, sending Hawaiians scrambling to seek shelter amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over the regime's nuclear ambitions.

A preliminary federal investigation released last month said the recorded drill message began and ended with the phrase "exercise, exercise, excise." It also included language scripted for use during an actual missile alert: "This is not a drill."

15 PHOTOS
Social reactions to Hawaii's false alarm ballistic missile alert
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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
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But the emergency worker, who has been fired, claims he "didn't hear 'exercise' at all in that whole transmission." As soon as he realized his error, he "just wanted to crawl under a rock."

"It was incredibly difficult for me, very emotional," he said, adding that his team was immediately flooded with phone calls from frantic citizens.

Officials who led an internal investigation said last month that five other employees had heard the part of the drill message indicating it was an exercise.

The worker who sent the erroneous alert had a "history of confusing drill and real world events," retired Brig. Gen. Bruce Oliveira, who led the internal probe, said at a news conference earlier this week. The worker had mistakenly believed drills for tsunami and fire warnings were real emergencies, the state found.

Related: Hawaii false alarm: Ensuing chaos is teachable moment, experts say

But the worker disputed those findings in his interview with NBC News, insisting they were not accurate.

The preliminary report from the Federal Communications Commission found the drill was "run without sufficient supervision" and that "there were no procedures in place to prevent a single person from mistakenly sending a missile alert from the State of Hawaii."

14 PHOTOS
Living in Hawaii amid fears of a nuclear missile attack
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Living in Hawaii amid fears of a nuclear missile attack
A view of an old WWII bunker that has been sealed up in Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
An overview of Diamond Head crater seen from the National Guard command center in Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
Oahu Civil Defense Hazard Mitigation officer Havinne Okamura monitors global events in real time at the Civil Defense command bunker in Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
An old WWII bunker is used as a National Guard command center in Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
Tourist leave the entrance tunnel to Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Oahu Civil Defense Hazard Mitigation officer Havinne Okamura and Senior Warning Officer Scott Harrison (L) monitor global events in real time at the Civil Defense command bunker in Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
Historical memorabilia are displayed at the Civil Defense command bunker in Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
A Oahu Civil Defense employee enters the Civil Defense command bunker in Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
Oahu Civil Defense Senior Warning Officer Scott Harrison monitors global events in real time at the Civil Defense command bunker in Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Hugh Gentry
Diamond Head crater on Oahu in Hawaii can be seen in this August 8, 2013 handout photo obtained by Reuters July 6, 2017. Master Sgt. Kendra M Owenby/U.S. Air National Guard/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Virginia-class attack submarine USS Hawaii (SSN 776) passes by Diamond Head crater on Oahu in Hawaii while transiting to Pearl Harbor in this July 23, 2009 handout photo obtained by Reuters July 6, 2017. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd class Meagan Klein/U.S. Navy Photo/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter participates in a helicopter training exercise over Diamond Head crater on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in this July 3, 2014 handout photo obtained by Reuters July 6, 2017. Ensign Joseph Pfaff/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Vern Miyagi (C), administrator for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, speaks at a news conference discussing the newly-activated Attack Warning Tone intended to warn Hawaii residents of an impending nuclear missile attack, at the Civil Defense department at Diamond Head Crater in Honolulu, Hawaii, November 28, 2017. REUTERS/Marco Garcia
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"There was no requirement in place for a warning officer to double check with a colleague or get sign off from a supervisor before sending such an alert," the report said.

The worker said Friday that he believes the state emergency management agency deserves the blame for the mistake — and shouldn't be shouldering the responsibility in the first place.

"We weren't prepared to send out missile notifications," he said. "I think the military should do that."

But he said he still feels remorseful.

"I regret this ever happened," he said. "I feel terrible about it. I did what I thought was right at the time."

Jacob Soboroff and Aarne Heikkila reported from Honolulu, Daniel Arkin reported from New York

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