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Warning officer believed Hawaii missile threat was real:

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AFP Washington
A warning officer who sent an alert that a ballistic missile was headed towards Hawaii believed the threat was real, according to a report on the January 13 incident which sparked widespread panic.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in a preliminary report released today, said the unidentified officer with the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) claimed not to have heard a phrase warning that it was just an exercise.

At the same time, the report said, the sentence "This is not a drill" was mistakenly included in the recorded message which prompted the officer to issue a warning of an imminent ballistic missile attack.

Mobile phones across the Pacific islands received the emergency alert around 8:07 am and it was also transmitted by television and radio stations.

"In the minutes that followed, panic-stricken citizens called their families to say what they believed were their last words, and some even resorted to jumping into manholes to find shelter," FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement accompanying the report.

The erroneous message came amid tensions with North Korea, which has tested rockets powerful enough to reach the United States, though it is unclear whether they are yet able to deliver nuclear payloads.

It took the authorities 38 minutes to send out a message cancelling the false alert and the FCC also looked into why it took so long to do so.

The FCC investigation blamed the mistake on a combination of "human error and inadequate safeguards."

It began, the report said, with a decision by the overnight-shift supervisor to conduct an unannounced drill when the day shift arrived at 8:00 am.

The overnight-shift supervisor informed the day-shift supervisor of the plan but the day-shift supervisor understood the drill was for the overnight workers ending their shift not for his arriving staff.

"As a result, the day shift supervisor was not in the proper location to supervise the day shift warning officers when the ballistic missile defence drill was initiated," the report said.

It said the overnight-shift supervisor called the day- shift warning officers at 8:05 am pretending to be US Pacific Command.

A recorded message was played over the phone which began and ended with the words "exercise, exercise, exercise."

The message also mistakenly, however, included the phrase "This is not a drill" used for an actual live ballistic missile alert, the report said.

Three day-shift warning officers listened to the recording on speakerphone and one of them "believed that the missile threat was real" and issued a live alert at 8:07 am after hearing the sentence "This is not a drill," it said.

The officer declined to be interviewed by the FCC but said in a written statement to HEMA that he did not hear the phrase "exercise, exercise, exercise."

"Other warning officers who heard the recording in the watch centre report that they knew that the erroneous incoming message did not indicate a real missile threat, but was supposed to indicate the beginning of an exercise," the report said.

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First Published: Jan 31 2018 | 1:45 AM IST

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