DN - Defence Notes

US defends false missile alert

15th January 2018 - 13:44 GMT | by ​Agence France-Presse in Honolulu

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On 14 January, a top US official defended government early-warning systems after a false missile alert terrified Hawaii, in what was called an epic failure that emphasised the need for talks with North Korea.

The Pacific archipelago was already on edge over fears of a North Korean attack when the phones of residents and tourists blared the alert just after 8:00 am (1800 GMT) on 13 January.

The US emergency management officials later admitted ‘the wrong button was pushed’ during a shift change. It took the officials nearly 40 minutes to issue a corrected message.

David Ige, Governor of Hawaii, said there was no automatic way to cancel the false alarm, meaning it had to be done manually.

Ballistic missile defence capabilities, such as the Patriot system (pictured), are known to be in high demand worldwide. 

Tulsi Gabbard, US Representative of Hawaii, issued her own advisory of the false alarm much earlier after directly checking with civil defence officials.

Gabbard said: ‘It's an epic failure of leadership. It was unacceptable that this went out in the first place, but the fact that it took so long for them to put out that second message, to calm people, to allay their fears that this was a mistake, a false alarm is something that has to be fixed, corrected with people held accountable.’

The alert, which read ‘ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill," sent people rushing for safety, whether in a bathtub, a basement, a manhole or cowering under mattresses.

Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said: ‘False alerts undermine public confidence in the alerting system and thus reduce their effectiveness during real emergencies.

‘It appears that the government of Hawaii did not have reasonable safeguards or process controls in place to prevent the transmission of a false alert.’

The message came after months of soaring tensions between Washington and Pyongyang, which claimed it had successfully tested ballistic missiles that could deliver atomic warheads to the US, including the Hawaiian island popular with tourists.

Kirstjen Nielsen, US Secretary for Homeland Security, ‘urged people not to draw the wrong conclusion’ from the Hawaii incident.

Nielsen said: ‘I would hate for anybody not to abide by alert warnings coming from government systems. They can trust government systems, we test them every day. This was a very unfortunate mistake, but these alerts are vital; seconds and minutes can save lives.’

Nielsen continued that her department is working with state and local authorities ‘to make sure it does not happen again.’

Vern Miyagi, administrator of Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency, has acknowledged that ‘we made a mistake’ for which he apologised.

Miyagi said that a rule has already been put in place ordering that two people be present before the button is pushed to issue an alert. A cancellation message ‘template’ will also be created to avoid a delay.

Ige said: ‘What happened today was totally unacceptable.’

According to Gabbard, the false alarm highlighted a broader issue and the risk of accidental nuclear war.

Gabbard said: ‘We have got to get to the underlying issue here of, why are the people of Hawaii and this country facing a nuclear threat coming from North Korea today?  And what is this President doing urgently to eliminate that threat?’

‘I have been calling on President Trump to directly negotiate with North Korea.’

Donald Trump, President of US, said that he would be willing to speak directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, with whom he has traded sharp words over Pyongyang's missile and nuclear tests.

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