Hawaii EMA: No one's getting fired over false missile alert

What does it take to get fired from Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency, anyway? According to CBS, starting a statewide mass panic and potentially provoking a military response by pressing the wrong button twice doesn’t rise to that level. The as-yet-unidentified employee of HI-EMA has been “welcomed back” to the office, but with a different set of duties:

“It’s embarrassing, but again, it’s a mistake,” said Hawaii Emergency Management Administrator Vern Miyagi, who reported one of his employees clicked the wrong button twice.

He was supposed to select the option for a drill. Instead, he chose the real thing

An alert heard by people across the island chain said: “A missile may impact on land or sea within minutes. This is not a drill.”

Begnaud asked, “With all due respect, are you sure this was an accident?”

“Yes,” Miyagi said. “I know the individual. This was an accident. Not intentional at all.”

“But why did he hit ‘yes’ twice?”

“That’s being talked about and being investigated right now.”

People make mistakes, to be sure, but there are mistakes, and then there are catastrophic and unbelievably stupid blunders. This mistake belongs in the latter category. A mass panic on this scale could very easily have resulted in deaths from either stampeding in public places, heart attacks, or as a consequence of potential looting in the 38 minutes it took HI-EMA to recall the alert.

Furthermore, as we have all learned since this alert first went out, it takes a two-step process to issue a “this is not a drill” alert. This person hit the wrong choice twice to activate this alarm. That doesn’t mean he/she intended to be malicious, but it’s a demonstration of the kind of incompetence that gets people fired … at least usually, in non-civil service jobs, anyway. It’s the kind of dangerous public failure that requires a demonstration of accountability somewhat greater than just a hey, my bad.

John Fund writes at NRO that it’s the kind of failure that used to result in heads rolling even in the public sector:

Richard Rapoza, the official spokesman for EMA, declined to identify the errant employee and added, “At this point, our major concern is to make sure we do what we need to do to reassure the public. This is not a time for pointing fingers.”

Actually, it is. In the Air Force my father served in for some 20 years, anyone who committed such a blunder would have been demoted or cashiered — along with any superior officer, such as Miyagi, who had failed to put in place redundancies to prevent such a fiasco. That kind of accountability strikes me as a pretty good way to start to “reassure the public.” …

But how often does a government employee wear such a badge so we know whom to credit or blame? Does any government bureaucrat ever “sign his work” when he issues a mysterious regulation? We may know the name of the political official in charge of the relevant agency, but just try to find the person who actually wrote the gobbledygook and have him explain it. Bureaucrats, such as the state of Hawaii employee who panicked 1.5 million people, treasure their anonymity.

It’s time we demand more accountability from the people who have such influence over our daily lives. Of course, what we would like others to do is also something many of us are leery of when it comes to our own actions. If you want to know why the U.S. has lost much of its accountability culture, many of us need do no more than look in the mirror.

When a public servant puts so many of the public in danger, we should really know that person’s name — and ensure that he serves as an example pour encourager les autres.