Hawaii emergency management worker who sent false missile alert: I was ‘100 percent sure’ it was real

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HONOLULU — The Hawaii emergency management worker who sent a false alert last month warning of an imminent missile attack says he was convinced the threat was real and “100 percent sure” he was doing the right thing.

“I did what I was trained to do,” said the worker, who spoke to NBC News on Friday on the condition of anonymity because of threats against his life.

The mistake sparked panic on Jan. 13, sending Hawaiians scrambling to seek shelter amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea over the regime’s nuclear ambitions.

A preliminary federal investigation released last month said the recorded drill message began and ended with the phrase “exercise, exercise, excise.” It also included language scripted for use during an actual missile alert: “This is not a drill.”

But the emergency worker, who has been fired, claims he “didn’t hear ‘exercise’ at all in that whole transmission.” As soon as he realized his error, he “just wanted to crawl under a rock.”

“It was incredibly difficult for me, very emotional,” he said, adding that his team was immediately flooded with phone calls from frantic citizens.

Officials who led an internal investigation said last month that five other employees had heard the part of the drill message indicating it was an exercise.

The worker who sent the erroneous alert had a “history of confusing drill and real world events,” retired Brig. Gen. Bruce Oliveira, who led the internal probe, said at a news conference earlier this week. The worker had mistakenly believed drills for tsunami and fire warnings were real emergencies, the state found.

Related: Hawaii false alarm: Ensuing chaos is teachable moment, experts say

But the worker disputed those findings in his interview with NBC News, insisting they were not accurate.




Image: An electronic sign in Oahu

An electronic sign reads “There is no threat” in Oahu, Hawaii, after a false emergency alert that said a ballistic missile was headed for Hawaii Jan. 13, 2018.