The Federal Emergency Management Agency's director of continuity communications told congressional investigators on Tuesday that FEMA was re-evaluating its training programs and public awareness strategies, after it took 38 minutes for Hawaii emergency officials to correct a false incoming ballistic missile alert sent in January.
"When there is that type of uncertainty in the community that points back, in my opinion, to some of our training offerings," Antwane Johnson told the House Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness.
"And that's where we are going to address this, is through training and increased awareness, and working with our federal, state and local partners," Johnson continued.
Earlier, fellow witness Lisa Fowlkes, the Federal Communications Commission's Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau chief, told the panel the commission's preliminary investigation into the Jan. 13 event found the correction's delay was compounded by Hawaii Emergency Management Agency's failure to contemplate "the possibility that they would ever issue a false alert."
"And so they did not have protocols in place, standard operating procedures to address that," Fowlkes said. "They had to figure out what code to issue, they talked to FEMA personnel on what was about a 45-second phone call, then somebody had to go log in and actually write the correction message because they did not have a template for that."
The Hawaii government has conducted an internal review into the incident in which a day shift warning officer with the state’s emergency management agency erroneously disseminated the message alerting more than 1 million people via cellphones, televisions, and radio stations of the supposed missile.
It took almost 40 minutes for the agency to notify people through its official system that there was no missile, however it did update its social media accounts within 13 minutes.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige initially said the alert was accidentally sent when the worker hit an incorrect button from a drop-down menu in the agency's software interface.
But the FCC found in its preliminary report last month the employee misheard a drill recording and thought the missile threat was real.
The probe also found the drill was “run without sufficient supervision” and that “there were no procedures in place to prevent a single person from mistakenly sending a missile alert from the State of Hawaii.”
While the FCC will not issue formal recommendations regarding Hawaii until its investigation is complete, the state has since installed more protections to prevent just one person from sending a warning message.
But on Tuesday, Johnson said a two-step verification process may not be appropriate in all "rural areas" due to staffing issues.
Both FEMA and the FCC are working with emergency alert system developers to improve software used by eligible parties.
The FCC voted on Jan. 30 to adopt stricter rules to ensure the tighter geographic targeting of wireless warnings, which will be fully implemented by November 2019.
In addition, the commission will have rolled out regulations for software vendors requiring Spanish-language capabilities and the capacity to increase message length from 90 characters to 360 characters by May 2019.
Neither witness Tuesday addressed House Subcommittee on Emergency Preparedness Chairman Dan Donovan's question about whether there should be greater federal government involvement in state and local emergency alert systems.
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee who sent the message was fired and Vern Miyagi, the state-based agency's administrator, resigned over the bungle.