Man Behind False Missile Alert Explains What Happened

Says the speakerphone option wasn't chosen initially
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 3, 2018 5:00 AM CST
Man Behind False Missile Alert Explains What Happened
The former Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee who sent a false missile alert to residents and visitors in Hawaii talks during an interview with reporters, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018 in Honolulu.   (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)

(Newser) – A former Hawaii state worker who sent a false missile alert last month said Friday he's devastated about causing panic but was "100% sure" at the time that the attack was real. The man in his 50s spoke to reporters on the condition that he not be identified because he fears for his safety after receiving threats. While starting a Saturday shift at the emergency operations center in a former bunker in Honolulu on Jan. 13, a co-worker took a phone call over the US Pacific Command secure line that sounded like a real warning, he said. "When the phone call came in, someone picked up the receiver instead of hitting speaker phone so that everyone could hear the message," he said. The man said he didn't hear the beginning of the message that said, "exercise, exercise, exercise." "I heard the part, 'this is not a drill,'" he said. "I didn't hear exercise at all in the message or from my co-workers."

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The man said it felt like he had been hit with a "body blow" when he realized it was just a drill and he has had difficulty eating and sleeping since, reports the AP. "I did what I was trained to do," he said. "I just feel bad about what I put the public through as far as panic is concerned." The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency fired him. The man's superiors said they knew for years that he had problems performing his job. The worker had mistakenly believed drills for tsunami and fire warnings were actual events, and colleagues were not comfortable working with him, the state said. His supervisors counseled him but kept him for a decade in a position that had to be renewed each year. The ex-worker disputed that, saying he wasn't aware of any performance problems.

(Read more Hawaii stories.)

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