Investigators say HI-EMA worker who sent false alarm refuses to cooperate

Local News

Investigators prying into this month’s false missile alert have hit a stumbling block.

They say the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee who mistakenly sent a statewide emergency alert to cell phones is not cooperating.

On Saturday, Jan. 13, at 8:07 a.m., many received an alert that read: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

The message created widespread panic, and a follow-up alert wasn’t sent until 38 minutes later: “There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.”

There are four ongoing investigations into the error:

  1. HI-EMA: Led by retired Brig. Gen. Bruce Oliveira, the internal investigation will look into what happened on Saturday.
  2. HI-EMA: Led by Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara, deputy adjutant general, the investigation will identify and implement improvements to the state’s emergency warning system.
  3. FEMA: What failed and what needs to be improved.
  4. FCC: Why some cell phones did not receive the emergency alert.

HI-EMA confirmed to KHON2 that the employee, who has since been reassigned, is not cooperating with state and federal officials.

“He gave an initial statement at the time of the incident, and has refused to speak to us since then,” said Richard Rapoza, HI-EMA public information officer. “His position has been that he gave a written statement, and he has nothing more to say.”

We asked for a copy of the worker’s written statement, but Rapoza says it cannot be released because it’s part of the investigation.

On Thursday morning, Jan. 25, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D, Hawaii, led a hearing in Washington, D.C. to examine policy concerns regarding the Emergency Alert System.

During the hearing, an FCC official confirmed the employee in question was not cooperating with the investigation.

“We are quite pleased with the level of cooperation we have received from the leadership of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency thus far. We are disappointed, however, that one key employee, the person who transmitted the false alert, is refusing to cooperate with our investigation. We hope that person will reconsider,” Lisa Fowlkes, Bureau Chief, Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, Federal Communications Commission, told senators.

Rapoza says the agency has and continues to encourage all workers to cooperate, and all but the one have.

We asked if the worker has been advised by a lawyer or anyone else not to cooperate.

“It’s certainly would be within his rights to do that, but we would hope that he would assist in clearing this up,” Rapoza said.

“Does this look bad for the state?” KHON2 asked Ed Teixeira, former vice director for Hawaii State Civil Defense (now HI-EMA).

“In one way, I think it did, because the public wants some transparency and some accountability,” he replied.

Teixeira says this also makes it harder for the state to regain the public’s trust.

This comes at a time when Schatz is also calling on the military and the Department of Homeland Security to take over the responsibility of sending missile alerts. The state says it is open to the idea.

“If they want to discuss it further, we’re more than happy to, understanding that it may create some redundancies,” Rapoza said.

We asked if the state or the FCC can force the worker to cooperate. Rapoza says at this point, all they can do is encourage the worker to do so.

We have not yet heard from FEMA regarding its investigation.

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