False Missile Warning in Hawaii Adds to Scrutiny of Emergency Alert System [telecom]

False Missile Warning in Hawaii Adds to Scrutiny of Emergency Alert System

An errant cellphone alert about an incoming ballistic missile set off a panic and prompted calls for major improvements to America's approach to disaster notification.

By Cecilia Kang

WASHINGTON - A false alert sent to cellphones across Hawaii on Saturday warning of an incoming ballistic missile is calling attention to an emergency notification system that government officials at all levels say needs major improvements.

The Federal Communications Commission said it was opening a "full investigation into what happened" when the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency sent the errant alert as a result of what Gov. David Y. Ige said was human error: a worker who "pushed the wrong button" during a shift change at the state's emergency command post.

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***** Moderator's Note *****

It-increases-my-paranoia department ...

This sounds like the other "mistake" which occurred back around 1976, where a nuclear warning was "accidentally" issued from Colorado when a government employee "mistakenly" ran the wrong paper tape through the Teletype machine which broadcast it on the wire services to virtually all radio stations.

Most of them ignored the alert and stayed on the air. After all, employees figured, if it was genuine then nobody would be around to complain, and if it wasn't then they didn't loose any ad revenue or get fired.

I'm tempted to write that this is another step in the creeping McCarthyism which Washington enjoyed during my youth: keep the public afraid and plyable, and they're going to vote for more defense money.

However, that doesn't make sense in Hawaii - a state which, more than any other, is dependent on tourism for the money to keep its police and fire and sanitation workers paid, its politicians in fashionable suits, and its image spotless. That means it must really have been a mistake, and of course that invites a whole bunch of questions about how seriously state governments take the federal mandates to maintain alert systems. The states are, of course, delighted to take my tax money for the latest federal gew-gaw, but I have the suspicion that they view the mandate just as seriously as did all those radio station managers who decided to keep their stations on the air back around


Bill Horne Moderator

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Monty Solomon
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It's bad enough that a false alert went out. But it is also very bad that it took them 38 minutes to issue an "ALL CLEAR". According to CBS News, that was because the computer wasn't programmed to do so, so it took a while to get it out. It is a disgrace they had no manual backup.

Historical Notes:

Here are several ads from the Bell System about their civil defense contributions, including the alert system.

SAC Red Phone:

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DEW Line:

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