Feds say they’ll work closer with Hawaii on emergency alerts

KAILUA-KONA — Sen. Mazie Hirono on Tuesday secured a commitment from Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen to improve communication between the federal government and states on emergency alerts, including verification of the information contained in alerts.

FEMA has contacted the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance in investigation, and clarified states don’t need permission from the department to cancel false alerts.

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“Saturday’s false emergency alert about a ballistic missile threat to Hawaii induced fear and panic throughout the islands. The threat was false, but the panic was real. People are upset and demanding answers, and so am I,” Hirono said. “Today, I secured a commitment from Secretary Nielsen to strengthen federal-state cooperation on emergency alerts, assess potential human and systemic failures, and improve overall readiness in Hawaii and across our country. I will continue to pursue all avenues of investigation to learn what happened on Saturday and keep it from happening again.”

Hirono questioned Nielsen as part of her Senate Judiciary Committee oversight role.

Nielsen told a Senate panel Tuesday the department had been unaware that Hawaii officials did not have a mechanism in place to address false alarms and retract them.

She also said the department is examining how the U.S. government can verify the accuracy of alerts with agencies such as the Department of Defense.

Gov. David Ige, meanwhile, appointed Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara to oversee a review of Hawaii’s emergency management process within two months.

Some changes have already been made, including requiring two people to approve emergency alerts.

Saturday’s false alarm sent many across the state into panic and made headlines across the world.

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday a man suffered a massive heart attack minutes after the false missile alert. Sean Shields, 51, started violently throwing up while at the beach on Oahu.

The newspaper said he then called his 10-year-old daughter and adult son to say goodbye. Then he drove himself and with his girlfriend to a health center where she says he collapsed in the waiting room.

Shields’ girlfriend Brenda Reichel said medical staff performed CPR and transported the man to a hospital, where he had emergency surgery. She said he had no previous heart problems.

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Also on Tuesday, George D. Szigeti, president and CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, said the industry has seen no impact from the false alert.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.