Earlier this month, the state government of Hawaii issued an emergency cell-phone alert, warning the islands’ residents of an incoming ballistic missile. For 38 excruciating, masturbation-free minutes, Hawaiians prepared for their imminent destruction — only to learn that the warning had been a false alarm, triggered by a state employee hitting the wrong button in a drop-down menu.
Or at least, that was the state’s initial story. The truth, according to a new report from the Federal Communications Commission, is slightly different: The warning was not a clumsy accident, but the deliberate act of a state employee who sincerely believed an attack was imminent. This horror-comedy of errors involves miscommunication between a night and day supervisor, a slightly inattentive emergency worker, and the fact that the phrase “this is not a drill” is commonly used in missile alert drills. As the Washington Post reports:
This mistake began when a night-shift supervisor decided to test incoming day-shift workers with a spontaneous drill, the FCC report stated. The supervisor managing the day-shift workers appeared to be aware of the upcoming test but believed it was aimed at the outgoing night-shift workers. As a result, the day-shift manager was not prepared to supervise the morning test, the FCC said.
Following standard procedures, the night-shift supervisor posing as U.S. Pacific Command played a recorded message to the emergency workers warning them of the fake threat. The message included the phrase “Exercise, exercise, exercise,” the FCC report said, but it also had the “This is not a drill” language used for actual missile alerts.
The worker who then sent the emergency alert said they did not hear the “exercise” part of the message. This person, who has not been publicly identified, declined to be interviewed by investigators, but they did provide a written statement, the FCC said.
According to the FCC report released Tuesday, this worker is the only one who apparently did not understand it was a drill.
Authorities realized their mistake within three minutes of the alert’s publication. But since there was no standard procedure for how to retract such a warning, officials spent nearly a half-hour determining what the most appropriate method would be.
To prevent more false alarms in the future, Hawaii plans to provide emergency workers more warning before drills, and to require two workers to issue an alert before it actually goes out to the public.