Good lord: Hawaii emergency alert worker who triggered false alarm really thought a missile was inbound

So that’s why the worker responsible for America’s collective panic attack a few weeks ago didn’t want to be interviewed by the FCC about it. Turns out this wasn’t a terrible yet understandable mistake in which an overworked clerk selected the wrong option from an admittedly confusing emergency-alert interface.

In reality it was a terrible, less understandable mistake in which the guy didn’t listen carefully enough to a drill message and concluded that a real attack was in progress.

But wait until you see what the drill message was. It looks like no fewer than three layers of government incompetence conspired to make this gigantic screw-up possible. Maybe more.

The first screw-up, via WaPo: Miscommunication.

This mistake began when a night-shift supervisor decided to test incoming day-shift workers with a spontaneous drill, the FCC report stated. The supervisor managing the day-shift workers appeared to be aware of the upcoming test but believed it was aimed at the outgoing night-shift workers. As a result, the day-shift manager was not prepared to supervise the morning test, the FCC said.

The second screw-up: Poor execution.

Following standard procedures, the night-shift supervisor posing as U.S. Pacific Command played a recorded message to the emergency workers warning them of the fake threat. The message included the phrase “Exercise, exercise, exercise,” the FCC report said, but it also had the “This is not a drill” language used for actual missile alerts.

Why in fark would you design a drill that includes the phrase “This is not a drill,” particularly in an audio drill? You’re begging for a disastrous mistake in which the emergency-alert team hears the phrase “This is not a drill,” panics, and overlooks the “exercise” part.

Which is exactly what happened here, apparently. The third screw-up: Negligence.

The worker who then sent the emergency alert said they did not hear the “exercise” part of the message. This person, who has not been publicly identified, declined to be interviewed by investigators, but they did provide a written statement, the FCC said.

According to the FCC report released Tuesday, this worker is the only one who apparently did not understand it was a drill.

The one guy on the team who screwed up somehow had the power to send the alert himself? That sounds not so competent either. They should require two people on duty to greenlight an alert before it goes out to make sure they both heard the same thing from Pacific Command.

There is, in fact, a fourth screw-up: Incompetent design.

To send an alert, emergency management employees select a pre-written message from a dropdown menu on a computer. They then must click “yes” when the system asks “Are you sure that you want to send this Alert?”

Wiley added that the confirmation prompts employees see before alerts are transmitted contain “the same language irrespective of whether the message [is] a test or actual alert.”

A well-designed confirmation prompt wouldn’t have prevented the alert from going out in this case since the man who triggered it thought there really was a missile inbound. But it might prevent negligent errors from happening in the future. For a live-launch, the prompt could be red-fonted, all-caps, with flashing text to the effect that YOU ARE ABOUT TO ALERT HAWAII OF A REAL INBOUND MISSILE. Basic stuff. But not basic enough, it seems.

Ready for a fifth screw-up?

Seven minutes after the alert was sent, officials stopped broadcasting the alert — but because there was no plan for how to handle a false alert, the agency could not issue an official correction.

It took them nearly 40 minutes to figure out a way to let Hawaiians know they weren’t about to be incinerated. Reading this litany of dopey mistakes and inept planning, you almost expect to learn that Hawaii somehow attempted to launch its own nuclear counterstrike on North Korea, failing at the last moment only because the launch computer wasn’t plugged in.

Exit question: Didn’t the governor tell us on the day of the incident that someone pressed the “wrong button”? That’s the one thing that didn’t happen, according to today’s FCC report. Was he lied to or did he lie to the public?

Update: Here’s a nice detail. Remember, this guy is still employed: