False missile alert button pusher thought Hawaii was at real risk

The fired state worker who sent an alert about an inbound ballistic missile to all Hawaii phones last month says he honestly thought the islands were under threat and was just trying to save lives.

Posted: Feb. 3, 2018 2:55 PM
Updated: Feb. 3, 2018 2:56 PM

The fired state worker who sent an alert about an inbound ballistic missile to all Hawaii phones last month says he honestly thought the islands were under threat and was just trying to save lives.

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"It's been utter hell for me and my family," he told Hawaii News Now.

He added the drill "seemed very real because it was unplanned, unannounced and it was a weekend morning. I was convinced that it was real."

In his first interview since the incident, which triggered widespread panic across the islands, the former Hawaii Emergency Management employee also told Hawaii News Now that he believes the state has unfairly targeted him rather than focusing on bigger, systemic issues and hasn't been forthcoming about what really happened from the beginning.

The man, who asked not to be identified because he is still receiving death threats, was fired after the state completed its investigation into the Jan. 13 incident.

And that internal investigation paints a different picture of what happened in the moments leading up to the false missile alert.

It says the so-called "button pusher" had twice before confused drills with real-world events, and that other employees at Hawaii Emergency Management knew the missile drill wasn't real. But the former state worker said those two previous incidents were essentially "paperwork" issues, not errant alerts.

In the wake of the incident, the head of the Emergency Management Agency and its executive officer have also resigned.

The state report did confirm that the alert was sent out during a test of the state's procedures in the event of an inbound ballistic missile. Emergency management officials have been practicing routine missile defense drills for several months, as part of a campaign to better prepare Hawaii for the threat of a nuclear attack.

In its report, released Tuesday, the state said the drill on Jan. 13 started as previous ones had: A recorded Pacific Command message was played over loudspeakers at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency that began "exercise, exercise, exercise," then warned of an incoming ballistic missile and said, "This is not a drill."

The drill then ended with "exercise, exercise, exercise."

In its own report, the FCC said the employee who sent out the false alert heard "This is not a drill," but didn't hear "exercise."

The "button pusher" told Hawaii News Now "This is not a drill" is not part of the standard language the state uses during exercises. He added that he honestly believed an inbound missile was headed to Hawaii — and he sent the alert to save lives.

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