KAILUA-KONA — Gov. David Ige praised Mayor Harry Kim and Hawaii County’s swift response to correct Saturday’s erroneous ballistic missile threat alert that was issued to the public statewide.
“They were very quick to identify that it was a false alert and very quick to communicate that to Hawaii Island,” Ige said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. “Yes, very impressed with the emergency response of Hawaii Island.”
Ige said he thanked Hawaii County Civil Defense on Saturday because it did what should happen when an alert goes off. It activated the emergency operations center, everybody reported to duty and they implemented their program to inform the public at the point it was identified it was a false alert.
Only a month since the state initiated a ballistic missile warning system, a ballistic missile threat notification was accidentally sent out statewide by a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee on Oahu during an internal test. The message was blasted to cellphones and automatically played on radios and televisions. It was 38 minutes before it was corrected.
On Saturday, Ige apologized repeatedly to the public and said the false alarm was a terrible thing to happen. He has spent the last few days promising residents of Hawaii that a false ballistic missile threat will never be issued again.
Kim, a former county Civil Defense chief, said he’s not proud of the mistake and wished the state had done better. However, he is proud of Hawaii County’s Civil Defense and its standard operating procedures, regardless of the threat, natural or human.
“You must at all times, regardless of the situation confirm the information, and that’s the first thing we did,” he said.
The mayor said they received confirmation from the state at 8:15 a.m., eight minutes after the alert went out, that it was a false report.
“We were told this was a human error,” Kim said. “We repeated it back to them and asked them to confirm.”
After that, Kim said the Civil Defense works to disseminate that information as quickly as possible, starting with a phone call to police dispatchers. At 8:24 a.m., 17 minutes after the first notice went out, Kim declared via radio that the alert was false.
The impact to Big Island residents is something that also must be addressed, Kim said.
The mayor said the fake alarm affected people differently. However, there was a lot of fear and anger. He added the trust of the state and the emergency system is now tainted.
“We’ve got to work to reestablish that trust,” Ige said.
On Monday, Ige said he spoke with all counties and their emergency operation centers right after the event. At that point, there was some immediate feedback.
Since Saturday, Ige said, it’s been hectic.
“We have just been focused on doing our job. My primary responsibility and highest priority is the safety and security of our community,” Ige said. “So we have been focused on examining the system that we have and implementing actions that would assure that what happened on Saturday would not happen again.”
Ige’s message to Hawaii Island residents on Wednesday was the state will continue to protect the people of Hawaii 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“We are focused on delivering quality services in every aspect to the community so that we can usher their safety and security and at the same time make investments that improve the quality of life on Hawaii Island and will continue to do so,” Ige said.
A couple of the new protocols already in place are: HI-EMA ceasing their ballistic missile defense internal warning drill until a full review of facts and circumstances surrounding the false alert is concluded, creation of an immediate process with a pre-scripted cancellation and false alert message, as well as imposing a two-step, two-person rule for TV, radio and wireless activation.
HI-EMA also established better protocols and lines of communication across the system’s network.
On Monday, Ige signed an executive order appointing Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara to oversee a comprehensive review of the state’s emergency management enterprise and to immediately implement needed changes.
In Monday’s statement, Ige said, Hara will give him an initial action plan within 30 days and a formal report in 60 days.
Kim said he is working with Hara and other generals involved in looking at the system.
“My only advice to the governor is to know the problem before we try and fix it,” Kim said.