On Saturday (January 13th), people across the US state of Hawaii received text messages warning that a missile attack was imminent, sent by a member of staff at the Emergency Management Agency.
The error took place during a drill after a change in shifts, with the unnamed employee (who has since been reassigned) picking the wrong selection on a drop-down computer menu. Apparently, he chose a real-life missile alert instead of the test option, the BBC reports.
What made the unfortunate situation much more critical – according to US media regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – the state failed to have reasonable process controls or safeguards in place in order to prevent the false alarm. And there was also a 38-minute delay in telling locals that it was a false alert. The FCC branded the mistake as “absolutely unacceptable”.
The agency has now amended its emergency response procedures so that two employees must now activate the alert system – one person to issue a warning and the second to confirm it. The agency has also come up with a way of issuing a false alarm notice immediately if another similar mistake does occur.
The message which was sent to residents and visitors in Hawaii read: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This not a drill.” It was later corrected to say: “There is no missile threat or danger to the state of Hawaii.” The alert was also communicated via TV and radio stations as well.
Because Hawaii is in such close proximity to North Korea, the alert system has been deemed necessary. North Korea’s nuclear programmes are currently viewed as posing an ever-increasing threat to the US, with Alaska and Hawaii the two states closest to the country.
As well as this alert system, Hawaii also has warning sirens in place left over from the Cold war. A test carried out last month found that 93 per cent of these sirens worked well, but some were rather indecipherable and 12 played an ambulance siren sound by mistake.
President Trump has since issued his first statement about the incident during the weekend, commenting that those involved had simply made a mistake. He praised the agency for taking responsibility for what happened as well, saying: “Well, we hope it won’t happen again, but part of it is that people are on edge, and maybe eventually we’ll solve the problem and they won’t have to be so on edge.”
But Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard has criticised the White House’s approach to North Korea, stating that while the false alarm in Hawaii was concerning, the real issue to be addressed is just why people in Hawaii and the US are facing a North Korean nuclear threat. And with that in mind, what is the president urgently doing in order to eliminate this particular threat?
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