Could Hawaii's Ballistic-Missile False Alarm Happen Here?

Could Hawaii’s Ballistic-Missile False Alarm Happen Here?

Kane County Office of Emergency Management Director Don Bryant illustrates the steps needed to send an emergency alert through the county’s Code Red system.

  • Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part series on the Hawaii ballistic-missile false alarm and what safety measures residents should take in Kane County.

Could the ballistic-missile-attack false alarm that petrified Hawaii on Jan. 13 happen here in Illinois?

Local and state experts say the chances are “very remote.”

As has been well documented in media reports, a state of Hawaii employee accidentally triggered a ballistic missile alert at around 8:30 a.m. Hawaii Standard Time on Saturday, Jan. 13.  It took Hawaii emergency management 23 minutes to connect with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and 38 minutes to let people know that the alert was a false alarm.

For some, those were 38 minutes of terror.

What Happened In Hawaii

According to media reports, Hawaii had been running tests in order to prepare for a potential nuclear strike from North Korea since early December 2017.

The mistake started while a shift change was under way on Saturday morning in the bunker headquarters of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. During a routine test of the state’s emergency and wireless-emergency alert systems, a state employee selected “missile alert” instead of “test missile alert” from a drop-down menu in the agency’s alert-system software, then confirmed his incorrect selection with another click.

Around 8:07 a.m., the errant alert went out to scores of Hawaii residents and tourists on their cellphones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

A more detailed message scrolled across television screens in Hawaii, suggesting, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor.”

Why It’s Almost Impossible To Happen Here

There are two reasons a similar false alarm wouldn’t happen in here in Illinois, Kane County Office of Emergency Management Director Don Bryant said.

The first and primary reason is that any type of missile alert to the mainland would almost certainly come from the federal government.

“That kind of message is something that happens on the federal level,” Bryant said. “We don’t have have a program to announce a missile attack. The feds would make the warning first and reach out to the states where the impact would take place.”

The agencies most likely to deliver messages about any kind of imminent safety threat are the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the federal level, the state’s Illinois Emergency Management Agency or a local agency such as Kane County’s Office of Emergency Management.

Kane County uses the CodeRED® Emergency Telephone Notification System, an ultra high-speed telephone communications service for emergency notifications. This system allows county officials to telephone targeted areas of a municipality or the entire county in case an emergency situation requires immediate action such as a boil-water notice, missing child or evacuation notices.

The state uses a similar CodeRED system for its emergency notifications, Bryant said.

Multi-Step Process

A second reason a ballistic false alarm is very unlikely to happen here is that our system has a number of checks and balances.

According to media reports, Hawaii is the only state in the nation with a pre-programmed alert that can be quickly sent to wireless devices if a ballistic missile is heading toward the U.S. FEMA said Hawaii did not require its approval to cancel the alert on Jan. 13.

While Hawaii’s system might be sent with a touch of a button, that’s not the case in Illinois. The IEMA system requires multiple steps, and there is a multi-digit code that must be entered to initiate the alert.

The system in Kane County is similar to the state’s, requiring multiple fields to be filled and a code to be submitted. Bryant and OEM Deputy Director Sean Madison are the only two people who can issue the alert on the Kane County system.

“The important thing for Kane County residents to understand is that the chances of a false alarm here are very remote,” he said.

  • COMING TOMORROW: What To Do In Case Of a Ballistic Missile Alert