The missile alert that sent Hawaii residents into a panic earlier this month was triggered intentionally, according to the FCC. The Commission has published the preliminary results of its study, stating that a misunderstanding of an emergency drill given without notice resulted in one official sending the live warning. This was because, based on the FCC’s report, the phrase “this is not a drill” was used during the drill.
The incident happened just after 8AM local time on January 13, at which time the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) issued the live ballistic missile alert using the region’s emergency alert system, including the wireless system. This resulted in warnings going out to the public, many of whom then reacted in a state of panic.
According to the FCC‘s preliminary findings, this incident happened because of a no-notice ballistic missile defense drill that took place during a shift change. This drill involved the HI-EMA’s midnight shift manager impersonating the US Pacific Command in a call to the day shift officers responsible for issuing warnings.
During this, the shift supervisor is said to have played a recording over the phone that included the words “Exercise, exercise, exercise,” which is part of the proper procedure. However, the message also included the words, “This is not a drill,” which is not the script specified by the HI-EMA’s standard operating procedure.
This message was relayed over speakerphone. Those on the receiving end, having heard the “Exercise, exercise, exercise” warning, understood it to be a drill. One official, however, understood the drill message to be an actual warning about an actual missile. This resulted in the official sending the live missile alert over Hawaii’s emergency alert system.
As part of its report, the FCC concludes that it was both human error and “inadequate safeguards” that resulted in the alert transmission. The incident did shed light on another problem, though — that HI-EMA wasn’t prepared for a scenario like this, resulting in an agonizing 38-minute delay before the alert was corrected.