HONOLULU — Hawaii Gov. David Ige on Tuesday announced a shakeup at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency as a result of the Jan. 13 missile alert that sent residents and visitors into a panic for 38 minutes.
The false report of an imminent attack — which many took seriously because of ongoing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea — was traced to an employee who has not been publicly identified. The incident showed that most people have no idea what to do in the event of such an attack.
“Today, we begin rebuilding the public trust in the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency,” Ige said in a statement. “I promised you a full, transparent, unbiased report of the event before taking personnel actions. The report is done and we took action:
“Employee 1 was terminated (the employee who mistakenly sent the alert).
“A second employee resigned before any disciplinary action was taken.
“A third employee is in the process of being suspended.
“The HI-EMA administrator, Vern Miyagi, has resigned.
“We made immediate changes so we would never experience a delay in notification again. There is more to do. Brig. Gen. [Kenneth] Hara is conducting a comprehensive review of our emergency management enterprise and will be presenting an initial report by Feb. 15. His review will help prepare us so we all know what to do, where to go and how to prepare for all hazards – natural and man-made.”
Ige spoke at a press conference with State Adjutant General Hara, Maj. Gen. Joe Logan, and Brig. Gen. (retired) Bruce Oliveira, the internal investigating officer of the incident.
Oliveria’s report revealed new information about the responsible party: “Employee 1 has been a source of concern for the same SWP (State Warning Point) staff for over 10 years. Employee 1’s poor performance has been counseled and documented and the SWP members have stated that they are ‘not comfortable with Employee 1 as a supervisor, two-man team, or as a part of the SWP in general.’
“He does not take initiative and has to be directed before he takes action. He is unable to comprehend the situation at hand and has confused real-life events and drills on at least two separate occasions.
“Employee 1 stated that he/she initiated the real-world CDW (Civil Danger Warning). Employee 1 stated he/she did not hear the announcement, ‘EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE’ at the beginning and end of the simulated message. Employee 1 also stated that he/she did not recognize the caller’s voice, and heard, ‘This is not a drill’ over the speaker.
“However, all other SWP members clearly heard ‘EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE’ at the beginning and end of the drill.”
The report also stated, “Employee 1 was sitting and seeming confused … At no point did Employee 1 assist in the process of correcting the false alert.”
The report recommended a series of changes in procedure to prevent a similar occurrence.
Miyagi, who had been responsible for HI-EMA’s day-to-day operations since Sept. 11, 2015, said in his farewell statement:
“I want to thank Gov. David Ige and Maj. Gen. Joe Logan for giving me the opportunity to administer the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency and serve the people of Hawaii. It has been an honor and a privilege, and I will always look upon it as one of the finest most rewarding challenges in my life.
“To everyone I have worked with at HI-EMA, thank you. None of us could have done this alone; it took an effort by a skilled, dedicated and professional team who shared an absolute commitment to the safety and security of our community. We faced some big events, from Iselle and the Iao Valley flood, to threats like the Puna lava flow and dengue fever. We prepared for numerous tsunamis and hurricanes, and helped Hawaii come to grips with the idea of a North Korean missile.
“I encourage you to look back on each of those events and remember how important your efforts were to our families and neighbors, the people who rely on us. You have the skills and capacity to do what Hawaii needs. Don’t give up. Never quit. Lives depend on you.
“And to the people of Hawaii, recent events have cast a bright light on our emergency preparedness, and caused many of you to consider whether you are ready for the emergencies we will surely face. Don’t let that feeling pass without taking action.
“Here it is from me one last time: Know where to go, what to do, and when to do it. Have a plan. Be safe, and know that whatever happens, good and courageous people will be there to help.”
Brig. Gen. Moses Kaoiwi, director of joint staff of the Hawaii National Guard, has been appointed interim administrator of HI-EMA.