Hawaii’s missile alert interface had a one-word difference between sending a test alert and a real one
After the false missile alert in Hawaii on Saturday morning, a new image from government officials reveals how confusing the alert system is. Instead of pressing a button, operators of the alert system have to select a link on a list of choices with obscure names like “1. Test Message.” The option that the employee mistakenly clicked on was “PACOM (CDW) – State Only.” The link that should have been clicked on was similarly named “Drill – PACOM (CDW) – State Only.”
Many of the names are similar to each other, so it’s easy to see how an employee (either without proper training or caffeine), could click on the wrong link and send off a warning to the public of a ballistic missile threat. On Saturday at 8AM, the employee was simply supposed to test the internal missile alert system, without sending it out to the public. The test was run occasionally, but not by any routine schedule.
Still, there is a second confirmation page as a safety measure, asking if the employee is sure they want to send the alert, which they also mistakenly pressed “yes” on.
Richard Rapoza, the public information officer for Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency, tells The Verge that while the image above is not an actual image of the emergency alert system, it is “an acceptable representation of our system.” An actual image can’t be released “for security reasons,” Rapoza said. But these samples were given out as a means of explaining what happened.
Since last weekend’s incident, where over a million residents received the false alert, which led to massive panic, officials have since added the “BMD False Alarm” option at the top of the list, which will notify the public more quickly of a false alarm. They have also ceased running missile alert drills and will require two people to be present to run them in the future.
On Saturday, it took officials nearly 40 minutes to correct the false alarm. The FCC announced on Sunday that it was investigating the false missile alert incident, citing a lack of “reasonable safeguards or process controls in place.”