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The person who transmitted a false missile alarm that terrorized the state of Hawaii this month is not currently cooperating with the Federal Communications Commission investigation, an FCC official said Thursday.
"We hope that person will reconsider," Lisa Fowlkes, chief of the FCC's Public Safety & Homeland Security Bureau, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in Washington.
The Jan. 13 alert of a ballistic missile alert sent people seeking shelter, some in basements or crammed inside bathtubs. The false alert came amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, which has conducted nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and has claimed a missile can reach the continental United States.
Fowlkes called the false alert "absolutely unacceptable" and said that the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is working with its vendor to put in place technical safeguards, and has since required that two people sign off on any tests or alerts.
She said the FCC is "quite pleased" with the level of cooperation from the leadership of the state emergency management agency, but that “we are disappointed, however, that one key employee — the person who transmitted the false alert — is refusing to cooperate with our investigation."
The panic from the false ballistic missile alert was compounded by the relatively lengthy amount of time it took for the warning to be rescinded. It took around 40 minutes for the error to be corrected, Fowlkes said.
Some officials raced to Twitter to notify residents there was no threat. Hawaii Gov. David Ige knew within two minutes it was a false alarm, but said Monday he was delayed in sharing the news on his Twitter account because he didn't know his log-in information.
Fowlkes told the Senate committee that, while the investigation is ongoing, "based on current information it appears that the false alert was a result of two failures: First, simple human error. Second, the state did not have safeguards or process controls in place to prevent the human error from resulting in the transmission of a false alert."
Fowlkes said that despite the false alert in Hawaii, wireless emergency alerts have "greatly enhanced public safety" overall, and that they were used in 2017 wildfires in northern and southern California, and in areas affected by last year's hurricanes.
Because they can be targeted, the alerts are "extremely effective" at reaching those affected by emergencies, Scott Bergmann, vice president for regulatory affairs for the wireless communications association CTIA, told the committee.