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United States Technology

False Hawaii Missile Alert Sent After Drill Recording Said 'This Is Not A Drill' (npr.org) 221

A false ballistic missile alert in Hawaii was sent on January 13 because an emergency worker believed there really was a missile threat, according to a preliminary investigation by The Federal Communications Commission. From a report: The report finds that the false alert was not the result of a worker choosing the wrong alert by accident from a drop-down menu, but rather because the worker misunderstood a drill as a true emergency. The drill incorrectly included the language "This is not a drill."
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False Hawaii Missile Alert Sent After Drill Recording Said 'This Is Not A Drill'

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @01:07PM (#56034283)

    Funny, it said it wasn't a drill, so the worker treated the alert as the real deal.

    I'm glad we have that person ready to save Hawaii from a missile strike. If anything they deserve a raise for doing such a standup job.

    Captcha: grenade

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And of course management immediately blamed the worker for clicking the wrong button when he was just following orders.

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @01:34PM (#56034523)

        And of course management immediately blamed the worker for clicking the wrong button

        Indeed. They lied to millions of people about what happened. So will anyone lose their job over this? Or will our emergency response system continue to be managed by irresponsible blame shifting liars?

        • The message played for the drill said "excercise, exercise, exercise" according to TFA, followed by the real message that would be played, which includes "this is not a drill".

          One would presume that someone who was paying attention at the time would at least seek clarification on the mixed message before sending a whole state into a panic.

          • by arth1 ( 260657 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @01:55PM (#56034701) Homepage Journal

            One would presume that someone who was paying attention at the time would at least seek clarification on the mixed message before sending a whole state into a panic.

            When there are mere seconds between thousands of lives being saved or lost, I would hope that they do not seek clarification, but err on the side of caution. I would commend this person and fire the idiot who approved the text "This is not a drill" in a drill.

            • by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @03:19PM (#56035313)
              Quite. If a human listener cannot trust the phrase "This is not a drill" to be an indicator that this is not a drill, then the phrase itself has no meaning whatsoever and shouldn't be included in either case.
              • by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @04:12PM (#56035729) Homepage Journal

                This may be a drill, or it may not be a drill.

                Ask yourself, do you feel lucky?

              • by EMN13 ( 11493 )

                Unfortunately, it's not unthinkable for language to be misused to the point of becoming meaningless. It may well be that the phrase "this is not a drill" is headed that way. This certainly isn't the first time I heard obvious drills begin with "this is not a drill" - usually followed by sheepish announcements immediately thereafter that, eh, sorry, it kind of was a drill.

                I don't think you're going to be able to avoid the need for people to simply use common sense, and *not* follow instructions sometimes,

            • by EMN13 ( 11493 )

              Fortunately, Mr. Petrov [wikipedia.org] didn't follow your advice or you may well not have been alive today.

              • by arth1 ( 260657 )

                Fortunately, Mr. Petrov didn't follow your advice or you may well not have been alive today.

                Huh? He did err on the side of caution.

          • by gnick ( 1211984 )

            One would presume that someone who was paying attention at the time would at least seek clarification...

            Even better would be requiring the operator to get confirmation from a second person before issuing such an important alert. I can't even complete a software purchase request without 2 additional signatures.

          • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @02:04PM (#56034775)

            The message played for the drill said "excercise, exercise, exercise" according to TFA, followed by the real message that would be played, which includes "this is not a drill".

            One would presume that someone who was paying attention at the time would at least seek clarification on the mixed message before sending a whole state into a panic.

            That is pre-12/7 thinking.

            More seriously, missile flight time from North Korea to Hawaii is 20 minutes. How many minutes did military detection and verification consume? How many more minutes to notifying Hawaii Emergency Services? How many for the information to propagate to the worker? How many minutes does it take civilians to take shelter?

            Each minute of delay will cost lives in a real attack. In a false alarm people suffered some temporary stress and the government embarrassment. If this is a one off as the government debugs the alert process and procedures there is no real problem here. If its recurring and the public begins to ignore alerts assuming its another false alarm, then there is a problem.

          • He was paying attention. He exercised, then he hit the button.

          • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
            Played back on a speakerphone with ambient noise, the "exercise, exercise, exercise" was either not heard, or effectively discarded because "this is not a drill" shocked the worker.

            Management deliberately violates good human factors practices, then blames humans for errors.

            Single pass, audio only, conflicting messages. What kind of idiot devised that system?
            • What kind of idiot devised that system?

              The kind of person who believes in "train like you fight, fight like you train", who uses the real message prefixed by a clear statement that it is an exercise so that the "worker" will not be "shocked" when hears the message for real. But the "worker" should not be shocked, this message is part of his job, and the part about not being a drill that might "shock" a casual listener occurs well after the "exercise" part. He's not "shocked" to hear "exercise", so has little reason to forget or get flustered whe

            • by sjames ( 1099 )

              No doubt one of those crappy half duplex speakerphones that rather than doing real feedback control squelches if the ambient sound reaches a trigger level.

              The whole Exercise part was probably lost while people realized they needed to be quiet and listen.

          • Which is the worse outcome? Falsely declaring a real emergency, or delaying a real emergency notice when minutes count?

            Don't let the boy who cried wolf's wolf's tail wag the dog.

    • by thsths ( 31372 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @01:20PM (#56034401)

      > Funny, it said it wasn't a drill, so the worker treated the alert as the real deal.

      Exactly. The worker did not misunderstand the message - the message *was* wrong.

    • by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @01:33PM (#56034505)

      For most mistakes made in a professional setting, it is usually a failure in the process vs a mistake of the individual.
      Having been the person who had hit the go button to kick off a colossal failure. I can tell you it could happen to anyone. I have gotten approvals and did every step I was suppose to do. However the process had shortcuts because no one wanted to deal with the full complexity or waste their departments resources on looking at it. So they had blanketed approved the data where I was the one who hit the start button.
      I didn't get into any trouble, but I had documented all the approvals. However I was the first on the list to be questioned. So I can feel for the guy who is under the public pressure for pushing the button to send.

    • by perpenso ( 1613749 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @01:46PM (#56034635)

      Funny, it said it wasn't a drill, so the worker treated the alert as the real deal.

      For some reason people in Hawaii take the phrase "this is not a drill" seriously.
      https://www.archives.gov/bosto... [archives.gov]

    • Stanislav Petrov.

    • by pesho ( 843750 )
      Description of the incident from The Guardian [theguardian.com]:

      "According to the FCC account, the night supervisor started the drill by calling the day shift warning officers, who had not been told their was to be an exercise, and pretending to be US Pacific Command. The supervisor played a recorded message which began and ended with the words “exercise, exercise, exercise”. However, the main text of the message was not the same as that used for a routine drill, and instead followed a script used for an actual alert, including the sentence: “This is not a drill.” Somehow, one of the day shift warning officers heard “this is not a drill”, but not the words “exercise, exercise, exercise”, and “therefore believed that the missile threat was real.” The officer who had misheard was sitting at that terminal used to send out alerts, and chose to send a live alert from a drop-down menu. A prompt appeared on the screen saying: “Are you sure that you want to send this alert?” and at 8.07 am, the officer clicked ‘yes’, sending out an all-capitals text message to mobile phones all over the state, saying: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”"

      So the guy is not warned about the exercise and is given a recorded message, that states both that this is exercise and that this is not a drill. Even if he heard it correctly, what was he supposed to believe and how was he supposed to act? If I were him I would also send the actual warning, because if there was an actual missile attack sending out a timely alert is critical. It is another question that the Hawaii population is unlikely to know what to do and t

      • by Megol ( 3135005 )

        While this update tells a completely different story than was previously told (selecting wrong item in a menu) the problem is the same: bad user interface.

        It's obvious that the correct action when having the job of alerting the public of a missile attack and hearing "this is not a drill" is to send the warning message.
        Compare the SLBM launch training (as documented in public media - never been on board a submarine) where it the fact that it is an exercise/simulation is always repeated embedded into orders.

  • by skids ( 119237 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @01:19PM (#56034385) Homepage

    ...wherein they now try to figure out why the message said "this was not a drill" ... and determine it was because that message was accidentally selected from a drop-down menu.

  • by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @01:19PM (#56034389) Journal

    Still a false alert, just that level of the alert chain wasn't to blame. Whomever put "This is not a drill" in the drill message was to blame.

    • by rhazz ( 2853871 )
      It was still a failure of the officer, but it might also be a small failure of someone higher up. A message that begins and ends with "EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE" is pretty likely not a real event regardless of what is said in between. The officer said he didn't hear the exercise part - so why didn't he hear both the beginning and end of the message?
      • by hey! ( 33014 )

        Let's imagine we weren't arguing this in hindsight. Instead, let's imagine we've just received contradictory information: this is a drill, this is NOT a drill. On what basis should we decide how to act?

        If you say, "choose which option is mostly likely to be true," then the result is you treat this as a drill spuriously identified as a real situation.

        If you say, "choose the action which results in the least potential harm," the course of action isn't altogether clear. A false alarm causes emotional di

  • by enriquevagu ( 1026480 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @01:31PM (#56034501)

    the worker misunderstood a drill as a true emergency. The drill incorrectly included the language "This is not a drill."
    If "This is not a drill" was included, the worker didn't misunderstand anything. He correctly understood the message and performed as expected. Dont' blame him, blame the person who sent the drill.

    • Warning! This is Dashslot. Make a cat video....
    • by Rakarra ( 112805 )

      If "This is not a drill" was included, the worker didn't misunderstand anything. He correctly understood the message and performed as expected. Dont' blame him, blame the person who sent the drill.

      If you're told in the same message that it's a drill and it's not a drill, then there is a misunderstanding. The misunderstanding came because he claimed he didn't hear the "exercise" disclaimer like the other folks got.

      • If you're told in the same message that it's a drill and it's not a drill, then there is a misunderstanding.

        No. It is STANDARD PRACTICE to use the phrase "exercise exercise exercise" to indicate that no matter what follows, this is an exercise message. This is not something new.

        Do you believe that an exercise message that reads "exercise exercise exercise please send 500 gallons of potable water to the Waimea rescue shelter" should actually result in 500 gallons of water being sent? Of course not. "Exercise exercise exercise", words repeated three times so they are not missed, means the rest of the message is n

        • by RobinH ( 124750 )
          Really? "Exercise" is a little vague to me. "This is not a drill" is definitely clear. To me, "exercise" means move. The opposite of "This is NOT a drill" is "This is a drill," not "Exercise."
          • Really? "Exercise" is a little vague to me. "This is not a drill" is definitely clear.

            Nobody cares what is clear to you, you don't work in an emergency operations center. It is PERFECTLY clear to anyone who does, and who has ever had any training on how to do this kind of thing. The excuse being given by the alert operator is not that the message was vague, it is that he didn't hear part of it. Had he heard it, he would have known immediately and without doubt that the message was not a real alert, it was an exercise.

        • Thing is, if you say "exercise" at the beginning and then say "this is not a drill" it's quite reasonable to assume that the later one countermands the earlier one.

          A drill should never say "this is not a drill". That should be obvious to anyone with an ounce of common sense.

          • Thing is, if you say "exercise" at the beginning and then say "this is not a drill" it's quite reasonable to assume that the later one countermands the earlier one.

            No. It is not reasonable to assume that. The people who do this, and to whom these messages are sent and processed, understand the system a LOT better than you do, and aren't supposed to make assumptions. "EXERCISE" three times means it is an exercise, no matter what the message contains, because knowing what the REAL message says is important even if you are conducting an exercise.

  • by NikeHerc ( 694644 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @01:39PM (#56034579)
    The drill incorrectly included the language "This is not a drill."

    Here's some irony for you: see http://memory.loc.gov/mss/mcc/002/0001.jpg [loc.gov] and note the date sent.
    • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

      Not sure how that's irony.

      • Not sure how that's irony.

        Same message ("this is not [a] drill"), same geographic area (Hawaii), polar opposite outcomes. Under the definition of irony ("an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected"), I claim irony.
  • by mykepredko ( 40154 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @01:50PM (#56034661) Homepage

    It wasn't a drill - it was a mistake.

    • Aren't drills usually *scheduled*? I know when there is a fire drill at the office, we usually get an email at least a day in advance. This prevents everyone from panicking because they know there is no real danger. In this case, it would prevent a Statewide alert from being sent.
      • by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @02:13PM (#56034835)

        Depends on how serious you are about your drills. After all, the real thing isn't going to be scheduled a day in advance, so a drill that is doesn't really tell you how well prepared you are for the real thing.

      • by Rakarra ( 112805 )

        Aren't drills usually *scheduled*? I know when there is a fire drill at the office, we usually get an email at least a day in advance. This prevents everyone from panicking because they know there is no real danger. In this case, it would prevent a Statewide alert from being sent.

        Yeah, it sounds like the supervisors knew, but the workers did not. Also according to the story: "The supervisor specifically decided to run a drill during a shift change to train officers for a challenging situation." Sounds like they found out what would happen!

      • more of an fire system test vs an fire drill at schools.

      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        It would also tell our enemies when the best time to push the button would be!

    • It wasn't a drill - it was a missile.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 30, 2018 @02:17PM (#56034863)

    This is a trend I have noticed for the last 10 years: Americans have become so ridiculously afraid of literally everything... Constantly on the edge, flipping by a hair trigger. Everything is OMG this, and creepy that, and don't dare or try anything that could even remotely make one imagine it might possibly cause dreams where one might dream of dreaming of imagining that there might be a chance it might be imaginable that there might be a risk.

    It's mad, to see it from the outside.

    Is it the fearmongering? Is it psychotropic drugs given to livestock and then in the meat? Is it the constant fearmongering of the news? Is it because intelligence has actually gone up and everyone now being better at coming up with possible ways it could go wrong?

    I just know, this won't end well.
    Or maybe I'm just affected by it too.

    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )
      This is both yes and no. In some ways dramatic headline news gets more viewers and clicks, news is a money making business. Fearmongering is used as a distraction, ask typical American what threat are they worried about, many will think of terrorism, nuclear explosion or exposure. But most lives and property are lost due to fires, floods, and other natural disasters. I see a missile attack warning as completely useless info for me because there is nothing I can do, and also with all these false alarms... we
      • But most lives and property are lost due to fires, floods, and other natural disasters.

        Actually, no. Statistically, I'll probably get killed by an old woman driving while texting, applying makeup, and eating a Big Mac.

      • The only thing you could do is getting into an underground parking space. Or a real anti missile/anti nuclear shelter. A standard basement would help if you are far away enough from ground zero.

        However if you nock at the door of a random house, showing the missile alert, I wonder if the inhabitants would let you hide in thier basement :)

    • This is a trend I have noticed for the last 10 years: Americans have become so ridiculously afraid of literally everything... Constantly on the edge, flipping by a hair trigger. Everything is OMG this, and creepy that, and don't dare or try anything that could even remotely make one imagine it might possibly cause dreams where one might dream of dreaming of imagining that there might be a chance it might be imaginable that there might be a risk.

      Is it actual americans you're noticing, or american news reporting about americans?

      Granted I may just live in a bubble, but with the exception of one guy who has a legitimate anxiety disorder everyone I know is generally the exact opposite of what you describe.

      I think what you may be seeing is a combination of media reporting sensationalist headlines riling people up, then reporting on those riled up people in a sensationalist way. e.g. the media goes out and says "omg worst flu epidemic evar!!11one"

    • America is, in terms of wealth, power, and influence, the undisputed head of the world right now. With that honor comes the knowledge that the rest of the world dreams of dethroning us, some through peaceful means, some violent. Nothing lasts forever.
  • The english language is imprecise. [betterthanpants.com]

  • ...At 8:05 a.m., the midnight shift supervisor initiated the drill by placing a call to the day
    shift warning officers, pretending to be U.S. Pacific Command. The supervisor played a
    recorded message over the phone. The recording began by saying “exercise, exercise, exercise,”
    language that is consistent with the beginning of the script for the drill. After that, however, the
    recording did not follow the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s standard operating
    procedures for this drill. Instead,

Someone is unenthusiastic about your work.

Working...