Hawaii Can Now Quickly Retract False WEA, EAS Alerts

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UPDATE Hawaii now has a way to notify the public that an alert was sent in error. There was no protocol in place to take back an alert at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) on Saturday, reported The Washington Post.

That’s when a state employee mistakenly chose the real, live “missile alert” alert option from a drop-down menu for what was supposed to be an internal test. An actual cell phone text was sent as a Wireless Emergency Alert and transmitted over TV, radio and cable over the Emergency Alert System. The message told the public a missile threat to the state was imminent and to seek shelter, causing panic.
The message told the public a missile threat to the state was imminent and to seek shelter, causing panic.  

It took 38 minutes from the initial alert to a subsequent alert telling the public the earlier warning was a mistake. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai on Sunday stated it appeared Hawaii didn’t have “reasonable safeguards” in place to prevent the transmission of a fake alert, Inside Towers reported. He said that was “unacceptable,” and federal, state and local officials throughout the country must work together to fix that and be able to issue a correction immediately.   

HEMA, meanwhile, had no “cancellation message” in place and no permission from FEMA to send one. Though the state did tweet 20 minutes after the false alert went out that there was no missile threat, no cell phone text went out until 38 minutes after the initial alert, telling the public the initial message was false. The state had to work with FEMA to write and approve a false alarm alert, “and that’s what took time,” HEMA spokesman Richard Rapoza told WaPo. HEMA now has a cancellation message that can be triggered within seconds.

HEMA has suspended internal drills until an investigation is complete. Now, two people are necessary to verify and activate an alert. The mistake occurred as Hawaii has reinstated its Cold War-era nuclear warning sirens amid growing fears of a possible attack by North Korea.  

January 16, 2018   

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