Hawaii Emergency Management Agency focused on regaining trust after false missile alert

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(KHON) – The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) is still feeling the effects one day after an employee accidentally triggered a false missile alert that sent the entire state into a panic.

The agency said one of its main focuses is regaining trust with the public. To accomplish that goal, HI-EMA said they are committed to identifying any and all weaknesses in how they operate.

HI-EMA is also using the error as an opportunity to continue educating the public.

On Sunday, the agency began its investigation to get the facts that lead up to the false alarm heard around the world.

Part of that investigation is retracing employees’ steps. They gave us a look inside the area where the emergency alert system was triggered.

‘We made a mistake’ Hawaii sends false missile alert

“We go through how the checklist was followed, who followed it, and we’ll have statements from each person on exactly what was happening. We need to get the facts of the process,” HI-EMA administrator Vern Miyagi explained.

Miyagi said he knows his agency has an uphill climb when it comes to regaining public trust.

“My concern again is our credibility,” Miyagi said. “I have to re-establish credibility because we lost quite a bit yesterday.”

Miyagi is also preparing to face lawmakers at a briefing on Friday to discuss what happened.

This smartphone screen capture shows a false incoming ballistic missile emergency alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Caleb Jones)

Meanwhile, the agency continues to deal with public backlash. We’re told employees have been receiving death threats.

“But again, these are not people who willfully did this to hurt people. This was an accident, it was a mistake,” Miyagi said. “These are good people who do good work all through the year, this is one mistake that was very tragic.”

Miyagi says although it was a big mistake, what happened actually heightened the reality of a nuclear missile threat.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard also addressed the issue on CNN Sunday morning.

“I’ve been talking about the seriousness of this threat for years, since I came here to congress, and I’ve been calling on President Trump to directly negotiate with North Korea, to sit across the table from Kim Jong Un, work out the differences so that we can build a pathway towards denuclearization to remove this threat,” Gabbard said.

As for the employee who triggered the alert, he’s has worked for HI-EMA for 10 years and has been reassigned within the agency while the investigation is ongoing.

“I talked with him this morning and encouraging him to hang in there,” Miyagi said. “We need to find out what’s going on and [I] advised him that we’ll get ahead of this and just to hang in there.”

President Trump today said the federal government will get involved with the false alert investigation, but he also praised state officials on how they reacted to the blunder.

“Well that was a state thing. We’re going to now get involved with them. I love that they took responsibility. They took total responsibility, but we’re going to get involved. Their attitude and what they want to do, I think it’s terrific. They took responsibility. They made a mistake. Well, we hope it won’t happen again. Part of it is that people are on edge, but maybe, eventually we’ll solve the problem so they won’t have to be so on edge.”

In a statement today, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said the state did not have reasonable safeguards in place.

“The false emergency alert sent yesterday in Hawaii was absolutely unacceptable. It caused a wave of panic across the state worsened by the 38-minute delay before a correction alert was issued. Moreover, false alerts undermine public confidence in the alerting system and thus reduce their effectiveness during real emergencies.”

Pai said federal, state, and local officials throughout the country need to identify any vulnerabilities to prevent false alerts.

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