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Hawaiian emergency worker who sent the wrong message is reassigned

by Jacob Soboroff and Corky Siemaszko /  / Updated 
Image: An electronic sign in Oahu
An electronic sign reads "There is no threat" in Oahu, Hawaii, after a false emergency alert that said a ballistic missile was headed for Hawaii Jan. 13, 2018.@sighpoutshrug / Reuters

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HONOLULU —The worker who sent Hawaii into a panic by mistakenly sending a missile alert has a new job — and it's nowhere near the early warning system.

Richard Rapoza, spokesman for the Hawaii Emergency Management System, declined to say Monday what the worker's new duties are.

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“All we will say is that the individual has been temporarily reassigned within our Emergency Operations Center pending the outcome of our internal investigation, and it is currently in a role that does not provide access to the warning system,” Rapoza said.

Rapoza also declined to identify the worker and confirmed that members of the agency have received death threats as a result of the mishap.

The Federal Communications Commission is also investigating the mishap, which caused 38 minutes of terror Saturday morning for 1.4 million Hawaiians.

The snafu happened several weeks after Hawaii reinstated its Cold War-era nuclear warning system after North Korea ratcheted-up tensions by firing another ballistic missile.

At about 8:05 a.m. Saturday, the worker initiated an internal test by accessing a drop-down menu on a computer program that presented him with two options: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.” He was supposed to choose the first option. He chose the second.

At 8:07 a.m., cellphones across the archipelago pinged with the following all-caps warning: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Within minutes, however, the U.S. Pacific Command was able to confirm that there was no threat, according to a state timeline of the fiasco.

And by 8:20 a.m., the state’s Emergency Management Agency fired off a tweet that read: “NO missile threat to Hawaii.”

Another such warning was sent to cellphones at 8:45 a.m., some 38 minutes after the first mobile alert.

"False alarm," it said. "There is no threat or danger to the State of Hawaii."

But by then the damage was done.

Calling it “an honest mistake,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said “two things went wrong.”

“No. 1, there was human error and the state of Hawaii did not have safeguards in place to prevent that human error from causing a false alert to go out,” Pai said on Fox News. “The second problem was that the false alert persisted for 38 minutes.”

The biggest danger from this incident, Pai said, is that it undermines “public confidence in a wireless emergency alerting system because when a real emergency hits, you want people to take that information seriously.”

“Most people are familiar with the story of the boy who cried wolf,” Pai said.

Jacob Soboroff reported from Honolulu, Corky Siemaszko reported from New York.

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