The emergency alert was due to a combination of human error and poor safeguards, according to a federal report

By Aric Jenkins
January 30, 2018
Getty Images / Staff

The emergency worker in Hawaii who set off a false alert for an incoming missile earlier this month actually thought an attack was imminent, a preliminary federal investigation found.

The investigation, conducted by the Federal Communications Commission and first reported Tuesday by the Washington Post, found that the worker misheard a recorded message as part of an unscheduled drill, prompting him to send the alert message that led to mass confusion and panic for nearly 40 minutes.

The night-shift supervisor decided to test day-shift workers coming in for the morning with a spontaneous drill, according to the Post. The day-shift supervisor seems to have been aware of the test, but thought it was for the outgoing night-shift employees instead. This meant the day-shift manager was not prepared to supervise the morning test, FCC investigators found.

That lack of supervision came into play when the night-shift supervisor contacted the day-shift workers posing as the U.S. military’s Pacific Command, which is in charge of detecting missile threats.

In accordance with standard procedures, the night-shift supervisor in the role of Pacific Command played a recorded message to the workers warning them of a threat. It included the phrase “Exercise, exercise, exercise,” but also contained the phrase “this is not a drill” — a mistake.

The worker who would go on to send the emergency alert apparently did not hear the “exercise” part of the message and instead acted on the “This is not a drill” segment that was not supposed to be included, according to the FCC’s report.

The error was not caught by the Hawaii emergency management agency's computers because there is not much difference between the user interface for test alerts and real alerts, the report said.

Last week, the FCC revealed that the employee who sent the alert had stopped cooperating with investigators.

 

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