Hawaii man says he’s devastated about sending missile alert

Honolulu attorney Michael Green, right, sits with his client, the former Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee who sent a false missile alert to residents and visitors in Hawaii, left, during an interview with reporters, Friday, Feb. 2, 2018 in Honolulu. The ex-state employee says he’s devastated about causing panic, but he believed it was a real attack at the time. The man in his 50s spoke to reporters Friday on the condition he not be identified because he fears for his safety after receiving threats. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)

HONOLULU (AP) — A former Hawaii state worker who sent a false missile alert last month said Friday he’s devastated about causing panic but was “100 percent sure” at the time that the attack was real.

The man in his 50s spoke to reporters on the condition that he not be identified because he fears for his safety after receiving threats.

He says an on-duty call that came in on Jan. 13 didn’t sound like a drill. However, state officials say other workers clearly heard the word “exercise” repeated several times.

The man said it felt like he had been hit with a “body blow” when he realized it was just a drill and he has had difficulty eating and sleeping since.

“I did what I was trained to do,” he said. “I just feel bad about what I put the public through as far as panic is concerned.”

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency fired him.

The man’s superiors said they knew for years that he had problems performing his job. The worker had mistakenly believed drills for tsunami and fire warnings were actual events, and colleagues were not comfortable working with him, the state said.

His supervisors counseled him but kept him for a decade in a position that had to be renewed each year.

The ex-worker disputed that, saying he wasn’t aware of any performance problems.

While starting a Saturday shift at the emergency operations center in a former bunker in Honolulu’s Diamond Head crater on Jan. 13, the man said, a co-worker took a phone call over the U.S. Pacific Command secure line that sounded like a real warning, he said.

“When the phone call came in, someone picked up the receiver instead of hitting speaker phone so that everyone could hear the message,” he said.

The man said didn’t hear the beginning of the message that said, “exercise, exercise, exercise.”

“I heard the part, ’this is not a drill,’” he said. “I didn’t hear exercise at all in the message or from my co-workers.”

Federal and state reports say the agency had a vague checklist for missile alerts, allowing workers to interpret the steps they should follow differently. Managers didn’t require a second person to sign off on alerts before they were sent, and the agency lacked any preparation on how to correct a false warning.

Those details emerged Tuesday in reports on investigations about how the agency mistakenly blasted cellphones and broadcast stations with the missile warning.

It took nearly 40 minutes for the agency to figure out a way to retract the false alert on the same platforms it was sent to.

“The protocols were not in place. It was a sense of urgency to put it in place as soon as possible. But those protocols were not developed to the point they should have,” retired Brig. Gen. Bruce Oliveira, who wrote the report on Hawaii’s internal investigation, said at a news conference.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi resigned as the reports were released. Officials revealed that the employee who sent the alert was fired Jan. 26. The state did not name him.

The agency’s executive officer, Toby Clairmont, said Wednesday that he stepped down because it was clear action would be taken against agency leaders after the alert.

Another employee was being suspended without pay, officials said.

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