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Hawaii Missile Alert Worker Fired, Will Sue State for Defamation (khon2.com) 172

This week Hawaii finally fired the employee who issued a false missile alert warning to the entire state, while the head of the state's emergency management agency resigned, another official quit, and a fourth was suspended over the incident. But new details also emerged about the incident:
  • The New York Daily News reports that the warning officer missed those words "because someone in the office picked up the receiver instead of hitting the speaker." And he insists that "I'm really not to blame in this. It was a system failure. And I did what I was trained to do. I can't say that I would do anything differently based on what I saw and heard." His lawyer adds that "The place was a circus and they got their scapegoat... All that was missing were clowns and balloons."
  • The fired worker now plans to sue the state of Hawaii for defamation, and possibly also for libel and slander, according to his lawyer, "because they lied about what happened." He also says that his client has already received numerous death threats.

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Hawaii Missile Alert Worker Fired, Will Sue State for Defamation

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  • Not a drill
    • Re:First (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @01:08PM (#56062395)

      I can't believe management felt the need to fire someone over this. I mean, it was a bit of an embarrassing mistake, but it's not like any real damage was done, other than letting everyone know that some procedures needed to be reworked.

      I'd say that this whole firing and subsequent lawsuit is more embarrassing than the original mistake.

      • Re:First (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Fly Swatter ( 30498 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @01:14PM (#56062427) Homepage
        Some jobs like public safety shouldn't get a second chance. They had ONE job, and failed on multiple levels - the whole department should be replaced and internal policies evaluated.
        • Re:First (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @01:33PM (#56062511)

          I'd be more apt to fire the person who put "This is not a drill" in the message when it was clearly a drill.

          • Re:First (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @02:31PM (#56062761) Homepage

            Overall this case stinks of bad policy and procedures.

            If there's a drill involving "not a drill" statement then there must also be a safeguard in place to block stuff from coming out. But I agree - anyone stating "not a drill" must also deal with the fact that it can come out.

            • Re:First (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Goragoth ( 544348 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @05:38PM (#56063429) Homepage

              What also gets me about this whole story is that they apparently didn't have a procedure in place for issuing a "oops, our bad, ignore the last message" message on the system. I mean the ability for an emergency alert to cause a panic is blindingly obvious, and no matter the safety systems in place there is always a chance that a wrong message might be sent out. It shouldn't happen but it can, so there should have been an obvious way to retract erroneous message.

              • How can they not have an "All Clear" message? Even if there was a real attack, at some point you have to be able to say "OK, anyone still alive can come out now".
          • by Kjella ( 173770 )

            I'd be more apt to fire the person who put "This is not a drill" in the message when it was clearly a drill.

            My guess is that it was not recorded in one piece like that, if so he must have been asleep at the wheel. It's presumably a "production" message and for exercise purposes they did:

            if (isExercise ) {
            play( "exercise exercise exercise" );
            }
            play ( msg )

            Which would have worked great except when the production message explicitly says it's not a drill. It may not even have been there when the system was first designed and just added later for additional impact. I have a similar test mod

            • A)bort R)etry F)ail

              anyone?

            • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

              There should be a second voice repeating "exercise exercise exercise" during the entire drill, so that someone who comes in in the middle won't be fooled. You'd think we would have learned something from the War of the Worlds panic.

              • YEeXaEhR,C ItShEa tE XwEoRuClIdS Eb eE XtEoRtCaIlSlEy EgXrEeRaCtI SaEn dE XsEoR CeIaSsEy EtXoE RuCnIdSeEr sEtXaEnRdCISE!

            • My guess is that it was not recorded in one piece like that

              RTFA; it wasn't recorded at all. It was a dumbass calling them on the phone, verbally giving them the message.

          • by ZosX ( 517789 )

            Yep. This was a failure on all levels and they fire the lowest man on the totem pole when instead it should have gone from the top down.

          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            I'd be inclined to drop the whole thing as a waste of time. Clearly upon the basis of the lack of death and dismemberment. People in a panic to leave the point of a thermo nuclear detonation, if it really worked a lot of people should have died and been injured trying to escape it, the system simply does not work. Sure warn for hurricane or tsunami, where you have some time but a missile that will strike any second, seriously what the fuck are you meant to do with that. About the only sensible thing bend ov

            • Re:First (Score:4, Funny)

              by StikyPad ( 445176 ) on Sunday February 04, 2018 @08:50AM (#56065453) Homepage

              People in a panic to leave the point of a thermo nuclear detonation, if it really worked a lot of people should have died and been injured trying to escape it

              Escape it how? It's an island. Surrounded by water. For miles.

              what the fuck are you meant to do with that

              Ideally, get underground.

              light a joint and go out high

              I take it you're already running drills.

              • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

                Well at least you accept the futility of it all, so why do, why take that chance with a false signal, does it make any sense or as you rightly point out, it is nothing but a scare mongering joke.

          • How much you wanna bet that person didn't know what "This is not a drill" means? I am seriously concerned that software is turning people into morons. You can fake a lot of competence by using software, and why do you need to know all that stuff anyway?
        • Re:First (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @03:38PM (#56063003) Journal

          Some jobs like public safety shouldn't get a second chance. They had ONE job, and failed on multiple levels - the whole department should be replaced and internal policies evaluated.

          The test didn't fail. It did what it was supposed to do: reveal problems. Skipping possible lies,

          1. Picking up the phone then realizing it was an alert and putting it on speakerphone loses the initial 3 "drill drill drill" or whatever it was.
          2. If they sent out an ostensibly real alert then realized it was fake, they shouldn't have to dig through layers of officials for half an hour to reach someone authorized to cancel a "real" alert.
          3. Why isn't the drill issuer sitting there watching ready to put a kibosh on it if it went wrong?

          The rest, such as during shift change, is fine as that could actually happen. "Drill not a dril!" is not so useful unless if you're testing if you need a W.O.P.R. to launch nuclear missiles.

      • Maybe that the UI is a mess and they over payed for POS software. The last story showed it to be big mess that was easy to make an error with.

        Now it comes out that the worker did do the false warning part?? but in the past it was said that the system needed a lot manual steps to add it.

      • it's not like any real damage was done

        Okay, apart from making everybody think for half an hour that they were about to die.

        • Re:First (Score:4, Insightful)

          by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @01:45PM (#56062551)

          it's not like any real damage was done

          Okay, apart from making everybody think for half an hour that they were about to die.

          I'm not sure experiencing that is a bad thing. I've had two near-death experiences in my 54 years - once in a car accident and once from accidentally breathing ammonia + bleach fumes from a bucket I thought was empty. In addition, my wife [tumblr.com] died of a brain tumor in 2006. Being close to death and dying gives you some perspective on life, living and other people - something many people could use more of.

          • believing Being close to death and dying gives you some perspective on life

            Or you jump into your car and speed to a place you consider safe and crash with another guy who had the same idea ...

      • Re:First (Score:4, Insightful)

        by SlaveToTheGrind ( 546262 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @01:16PM (#56062437)

        but it's not like any real damage was done

        The entire island was running around in terror with nowhere to go for over half an hour before these schlocks finally managed to say "oops, just kidding." Would you require actual blood to be spilled or someone to actually die over the mass panic before you consider it to be "real damage"?

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 )

          The entire island was running around in terror with nowhere to go for over half an hour before these schlocks finally managed to say "oops, just kidding."

          Big deal. The country has been doing that for a year now -- still waiting for the "oops, just kidding" part. :-)

          • The entire island was running around in terror with nowhere to go for over half an hour before these schlocks finally managed to say "oops, just kidding."

            Big deal. The country has been doing that for a year now -- still waiting for the "oops, just kidding" part. :-)

            Sarcasm aside I don't see any of the panic we were promised if Trump was elected. Stocks didn't crash, terrorism didn't increase, unemployment didn't increase, welfare hasn't increased, housing prices didn't crash, hate crimes haven't increased, etc. If anything every measurable quantity is doing much better than it was before.

        • Yeah, probably. We don't normally get our panties in a twist unless someone is actually hurt.

        • by Tesen ( 858022 )

          The entire island was running around in terror with nowhere to go for over half an hour before these schlocks finally managed to say "oops, just kidding."

          Perhaps the silver lining here is in your quoted statement.

        • The entire island was running around in terror

          Actually, less than 10% of Hawaiians took the warning seriously. Most assumed it was a screw up.

          Next time, likely less than 1% will take it seriously.

        • And did anyone check the hospitals to count the number of (additional) heart attacks?
      • This was a government announcement that scared millions of people, cost time and money for millions as they had to deal with the false alert, and will contribute to mistrust of _real_ announcements of danger. This is also not the employee's first major mistake. If that is not grounds for firing someone, what would be?

        No one apparently died, as they rushed to handle the emergency. But that is happenstance: emergency vehicles getting into place, or phones tied up at emergency services as they deal with the so

      • it's not like any real damage was done

        Nonsense.

        Damage was done because far fewer people will believe a REAL warning, and they will be vaporized after failing to take shelter.

        The only other logical belief is that these ballistic missile warnings are stupid, and that ALL of the people tasked with managing the warning system should either be fired or reassigned to something more sensible, and where their incompetence will cause less harm.

        Either the system should be run correctly, or it should be abolished.

      • by MrL0G1C ( 867445 )

        They knew he might mistake the drill for a real event because he had done so before. They said "this is not a drill" which is very obviously not something anyone should say during a drill FFS.

        They didn't check or get any confirmation that he knew it was a drill. They didn't tell him beforehand that there was going to be a drill. And then they sacked him!!!!!!!!!!

        I sincerely hope he wins and gets a nice sum of damages but not an absurd amount.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 03, 2018 @12:47PM (#56062307)
    If it said not a drill, it's not his fault. Fire the person who added "not a drill" to a drill.
    • by Megane ( 129182 )
      Yes, because a few words of disclaimer at the beginning of a fake incident, [wikipedia.org] that are easily missed by someone not there at that moment, will be noticed by everybody and prevent all the other words from ever causing a panic.
      • The staff did not know there was a drill. The person taking the message did not put it on speaker so that everyone could hear the "exercise" part. So the important phone rings, someone picks it up, then shouts "Not a drill!" The other military personnel are trained to follow orders, not start a discussion or get clarification. The base needed a patsy to blame and they found one.

        • Sorry, they weren't military. Don't know why this sort of thing wasn't managed by the national guard.

          • Because the National Guard doesn't actually guard the nation... They are just yet another branch/level of people to be used for various roles, typically logistics, disaster relief/rescue, and crowd control. They are trained and maintained by the State government which they are deployed within, and not by the Federal Government.
            • However, they do get military training, and not just weekend marching.

              • However, they do get military training, and not just weekend marching.

                Learning how to field strip an M16 doesn't make you more qualified to verify ballistic missile warnings.

  • It's time... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @12:48PM (#56062313)
    ... to let the courts, and not public opinion, sort this one out.
    • Wh-hat...that is so...sensible.
    • by CRB9000 ( 647092 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @01:03PM (#56062377)

      To avoid issues, government HR briefs supervisors that when commenting on the dismissal of an employee, or providing a reference or confirmation of employment that is is important NOT to provide a characterization of service. In other words you say:

      • Yes, he/she worked here for the time period specified.
      • He/she has been released from service.
      • We are prevented from providing a characterization of service positive or negative.

      The fact they provided, to the press, a characterization of his service, include details about his past issues, the State of Hawaii should probably settle and then brief their Emergency Management folks to keep their &^%*ing mouths shut next time.

    • I thought it strange that the HR dept would air so much laundry on this employee's job history. Suggesting he was so very incompetent.

      I also thought it was laughable that Plan-B was the governor logging in to Twitter to set the record straight. Seriously? Oh -- and he couldn't remember his password !!!!! The whole state monitors Twitter?

      Why not send out a second broadcast saying "just kidding" -- or apparently they didn't have a button for that.

      Yes - this one person is not at fault - or at least there'

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @01:00PM (#56062359)

    firing just leads to people covering up errors and blame passing. or people slowing work down to the point where you need 2-3 people to sign off to get stuff done.

    • firing just leads to people covering up errors and blame passing. or people slowing work down to the point where you need 2-3 people to sign off to get stuff done.

      Completely agree. And what is worse it leads to the discouragement of those who truly care about serving the public with integrity and good faith in the work that they do! That is exactly why so many positions that require only people that care more than a pay check at a time are being filled with people who could care less and only seek the thrill of power...going all the way up to the POTUS!!!!

    • It's hard to judge without knowing all of the details. The last bullet point in the summary states "[T]he employee behind the missile alert 'had a history of performance problems and had been "a source of concern,"' . . . [and] the employee 'has confused real life events and drills on at least two separate occasions.'"

      If that's true (and if it is there should probably be some documentation of it on record), it sounds like this guy should have been fired a long time ago. Maybe changing the protocol to pre
      • It's hard to judge fairlywithout knowing all of the details.

        FTFY. Because half the reason we are in this mess it it's damn easy for people to judge off a clickbait headline.

      • by Antique Geekmeister ( 740220 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @01:48PM (#56062567)

        It can be very difficult to fire a union worker without a strong track record of failure. It can also be unfair to fire someone for a single bad mistake if they have years of good productivity, or are under enormous work stress. This is why managers write "recovery plans", to give an employee a chance to improve.

        Also, "The Peter Pinciple" still applies today, especially in unionized work. The book of that name described how people progress and get promoted until they are no longer competent enough to get promoted anymore. Many people have learned to refuse to be demoted back to where they _were_ competent and productive, because it poisons your resume and limits your income.and seniority in workplaces where that matters. I've had to be _very_ careful in my own career to avoid getting promoted to work I'd not do well: it startles many managers when an employee refuses a promotion.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        OTOH, what they're saying is that they KNEW their drill procedure created confusion and still said "this is not a drill" for a drill.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Actually, keeping him in place led to 10 years of covering up errors [civilbeat.org] -- and the reward for their forbearance was to finally hit the perfect storm where nobody was able to cover up for his incompetence in time.

      Yes, people need to be fired when it's clear they're both ineffective and unable to change that. The alternative is what you see right here. They're supremely lucky nobody got seriously hurt/killed over this.

    • firing just leads to people covering up errors and blame passing. or people slowing work down to the point where you need 2-3 people to sign off to get stuff done.

      When it comes to activating state-wide emergency alarms maybe 2-3 people signing off on it would be a good idea.

    • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @05:33PM (#56063417) Homepage Journal

      Firing absolutely has to be on the decision tree somewhere, but not near the root of the tree for all the reasons you say. Firing is not a quick fix, except insofar as shielding other people responsible for a problem.

      Given that the people who worked with the button-pusher had doubts about his ability to perform, and that this isn't the first time that employee has failed to distinguish between real and drill emergencies, there's obviously a lot more wrong with the way the agency handles performance issues, as well as with the way this particular drill was conducted. If that's not corrected, it could leave employees gun-shy in a real crisis.

  • System problem (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Sounds like this was a system failure with plenty of culpability at several levels, though it is, in the end, the essential responsibility of the agency head that his agency can do its job. And it appears there were previous symptoms of the systemic problems. It is well known that warning test messages should NOT be worded like a real warning message precisely because it causes confusion. It should be like "in place of this message you would have received a description of the threat..." etc. The test is

    • It is well known that warning test messages should NOT be worded like a real warning message

      Well known to whom? Procedures should assume that the incoming message may not be true. The failure was in the lack of a verification step.

  • defamation, and possibly also for libel and slander, according to his lawyer

    I think he should get a better lawyer.

  • by Mister Liberty ( 769145 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @01:29PM (#56062485)
    ...than the missile he erroneously sounded the alarm for.
  • I know there is for the State Dept. If so, it would probably help improve things if you could fire somebody and hire their replacement.
  • So do many of the states and much of the US electorate. This is not new.

  • Dear... everyone. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hallux-F-Sinister ( 5127197 ) on Saturday February 03, 2018 @01:48PM (#56062571)
    You do NOT. PUT. THE. WORDS. this is not a drill IN. A. FUCKING. DRILL.

    To the person or persons responsible for firing the guy, if, that is, I had the power to fire them, I would ask the following question: Yes means no, and no means yes. Would you like me to fire you?

    Then I would totally fire them no matter what they said.

    I myself have had to deal with incompetent morons in leadership positions who literally did not know the literal meanings of words they were using, including, yes, literally.
    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday February 04, 2018 @01:56AM (#56064773)
      According to the timeline of what happened [npr.org], there are two safeguards to prevent something like this from happening.
      • "This is not a drill" is only to be included if it is not a drill.
      • Drills are to be preceded and ended by the phrase "exercise exercise exercise."

      For a false alert to be sent out, both safeguards have to fail. Presumably staff are trained that either the absence of "this is not a drill" or the presence of "exercise exercise exercise" indicates a drill. In other words, it is only real if the broadcast contains the phrase "this is not a drill", AND is not begun nor ended with "exercise exercise exercise."

      The first safeguard failed when a supervisor played the incorrect broadcast to staff - one which included the phrase "this is not a drill." He did however correctly include "exercise exercise exercise" at the beginning and end of the broadcast.

      The second safeguard also failed. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency fired the employee because they think he ignored the "exercise exercise exercise" in the broadcast. The fired employee claims another employee cut off the phone broadcast before the ending "exercise exercise exercise" so he never heard it.

      I agree they should've waited until after an investigation to fire him. But the inclusion of the phrase "this is not a drill" does not automatically absolve the employee of responsibility for the mistake. The system you're advocating only has a single safeguard, which is a really dumb way to design a system which could potentially incite panic.on a state-wide scale. They correctly designed it with multiple safeguards, and it is possible that the employee ignored the second safeguard, which would in fact make him responsible for the false alert.

    • Yes and. The drill was to read the published scripts. Which must contain "this is not a drill"

      You can't have a drill that contains two sets of scripts - because then you aren't testing the actual Plan. And who is responsible for keeping two scripts to up date? and what's the risk of getting it wrong. Apparently the "this is a drill" script says Step 1 "Say This is a Drill, This is a Drill" Step 2 - "Read actual Script" Step 3- "Repeat This IS A DRILL"

      Hopefully they'll look at the script and decide

  • All that was missing were clowns and balloons.

    Welcome to 2018. The budget for clowns and balloons has been cut so we can pay for tax cuts and The Wall.

  • The fact that they use Post-Its to write their passwords down has been normal behavior for some time now it seems. Why is this guy put front and center? This charade should end -- so don't even start --or end -- with him.

    Try a different approach, say, what exactly do you want to fix?

  • It gets curiouser and curiouser...

    The first hint of incompetence was the repeated referral to a non-existent "button".

    It was (apparently) a drop-down.

    That smacks of a made-up excuse by some superior who was not familiar with the actual procedure.

  • The investigation confirmed that his script for the drill included the phrase "this is not a drill" (though it also began and ended with the words "exercise, exercise, exercise.")

    Reminds me of the original Orson Wells 'War of the Worlds' broadcast which alerted listeners to it's fictional nature before and after each commercial break, but some didn't listen long enough to hear the disclaimers...

    Why would you create an "exercise, exercise, exercise" that has as part of it's script the words "this is not a drill"? How did anyone think that was a good plan?

  • Did everyone, even outside of his state, a great service by showing how fucking pathetic the response was and just how unprepared we are for shit like this.

  • ....they need to fire the dipshit that allowed an 'accidental' send of that (from what I heard, as the guy was trying to punch out).

    My car has a "call for help" button, even THAT trivial thing is covered with a safety switch - push once to open and expose the ACTUAL button,

  • Got to love a lawyer with an appropriate level of sarcasm!

    His lawyer adds that "The place was a circus and they got their scapegoat... All that was missing were clowns and balloons." #MikeDrop

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