Why Is the Hawaii 'Button Pusher' Not Cooperating in Investigations?

A smartphone screen capture shows a false missile alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system on Jan. 13. (Marco Garcia / AP)

People want to understand what happened at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) on Jan. 13, but Hawaii’s missile alert scare remains a bit of a mystery.

The official explanation for why a false missile alert got sent to thousands of mobile phones was that a HI-EMA employee selected the wrong item in a computer drop-down menu, choosing “Missile alert” instead of “Test missile alert.” Now that anonymous “button pusher” is not talking, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports.

“We are quite pleased with the level of cooperation we have received from the leadership of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency thus far,” Lisa Fowlkes, the FCC’s Homeland Security Bureau chief, said Friday at a Senate hearing on America’s emergency alert systems, according to the Star-Advertiser. “We are disappointed, however, that one key employee, the person who transmitted the false alert, is refusing to cooperate with our investigation. We hope that person will reconsider.”

In addition to not talking with FCC investigators, the button pusher, an “exempt, union employee” (reportedly belonging to the Hawaii Government Employees Association union), refuses to cooperate with “two internal HI-EMA investigations, one looking into the events of Jan. 13 and another probing the agency’s overall operations.”

According to Lt. Col. Chuck Anthony, the spokesperson for Hawaii’s Department of Defense, which oversees HI-EMA, the “warning officer” stopped cooperating after providing an initial written statement on the day of the incident and has not returned to work after being given a different HI-EMA job.

“He’s choosing not to have further engagement with other employees at the Emergency Management Agency who have attempted to reach out to him,” said Anthony, adding that the employee has not been disciplined for his actions but could face punishment, including employment termination.

Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii wants to ensure that HI-EMA, or any local agency, never makes this kind of mistake again. According to the Star-Advertiser, before Friday’s hearing in Washington, D.C., Schatz announced plans to introduce new legislation that would change missile alert protocol.

A missile attack is federal. A missile attack is not a local responsibility. Confirmation and notification of something like a missile attack should reside with the agency that knows first and knows for sure, in other words the people who know should be the people who tell us. That is why I’m introducing legislation with Sens. [Kamala] Harris, [Cory] Gardner and others to make it clear that the authority to send missile alerts should rest with the Department of Defense and Homeland Security. These agencies have to work with the state and local Emergency Management Agencies when they get the word out so that the public is safe and informed.

Watch the hearing below.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is less optimistic about our future. On Thursday, the Bulletin moved the “Doomsday Clock” ahead 30 seconds, putting the world at two minutes to midnight, or the end of humanity. This is the closest the clock has been to doomsday since 1953 during the Cold War.

Let’s hope nuclear sanity prevails, so we can avoid real missile text alerts.


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Eric Ortiz
Eric Ortiz is a journalist and innovator with two decades in digital media, Ortiz founded the mobile app startup Evrybit, a live storytelling and reporting tool, as a 2014 John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at…
Eric Ortiz

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