Hawaii Was Not Fully Ready To Start Testing Its Missile Alert System When It Sent Out A False Warning, Says A New Report

The governor of Hawaii said he will request $2 million to improve plans for a nuclear attack.

Hawaii is not prepared to respond to a nuclear attack and was not fully ready to start testing its alert system when it sent out a false missile alert last month, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The report was put together by Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara, who is the second in command at the Hawaii Department of Defense, after a false missile alert was sent to the phones of everyone in the state on Jan. 13. It took 38 minutes to send out a correction alert.

"The response and recovery sections of the plan were minimally developed," the report said. "The plan lacked details for sheltering, county coordination, and protocols for decision to send out all clear or false missile alert messages."

A breakdown in leadership and communication at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency was identified by the report as part of the problem.

"The people of Hawaii, including loved ones from afar, suffered unnecessary fear and pain resulting from human error, exacerbated by a series of HI-EMA leadership failures in rapid decision-making and communications plan to correct the initial error," the report said.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator, Vern Miyagi, and the executive officer, Toby Clairmont, both resigned following the false missile alert, while the unnamed employee who sent the alert was fired and a fourth employee was suspended without pay.

Tuesday's report called for improvements in training and education for government leaders, emergency management employees, and the public, so that they would know what to do in case of a real disaster.

In particular, the report said that there was no plan in place to inform the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Public Information Officer about the false missile alert, who should be able to communicate the correct information with the public.

"The missing key step to notify the PIO contributed to the delay in rapidly informing the media and public," the report said.

Gov. David Ige said in a press conference on the report's findings that the state is actively looking for a new leader for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to implement the recommendations in the report. Ige also said he would be asking the state legislature for $2 million to fund emergency preparedness capabilities.

The report said an estimated $800,000 would be needed to produce an effective and functional strategic plan, while an estimated $500,000 would be needed to conduct a public outreach and education program.

The report also recommended coordinating state appropriations submissions "to mitigate current shortfall and future programs essential to preparedness." This included a recommendation to construct a Joint Emergency Management Center with an estimated cost of $135 million, while cost estimates for other improvements, especially to Hawaii's aging infrastructure, were said to still be undetermined.

The report called for updated preparation plans for a ballistic missile threat as well as for other disasters, including chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear warfare.

The report also recommended including all emergency management stakeholders in the planning process in order to reduce gaps and vulnerabilities that exist currently. And it called for improvements in the technology used by the State Warning Point to send alerts about disasters. In particular, the software lacked two-step approval process.

"The FEMA Authorized Originator Software Provider (FEMA AOSP), a service hosted web application, lacked features that could have prevented human error that resulted in the false missile alert," the report said.

The ballistic missile warning drills have been suspended until plans are improved, with the exception of the monthly sirens, so that the public knows "what to do, where to go, and when to do it."

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