State official: Hawaii mistake can’t happen here

  • Cars drive past a highway sign that says “MISSILE ALERT ERROR THERE IS NO THREAT” on the H-1 Freeway in Honolulu, Saturday. ap file photo

Associated Press
Wednesday, January 17, 2018

BOSTON — It’s unlikely Massachusetts would experience a false ballistic missile alarm like the one that caused widespread panic in Hawaii because the Bay State has “very different” protocols in place, the director of the state emergency management agency said Tuesday.

The alert that panicked Hawaii last Saturday was blamed on a worker who pressed the wrong button during a shift change. The alert was not rescinded for 38 minutes.

“The only way we’re going to have a false alert go out is by intentional wrongdoing, not by mistake,” said Kurt Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, told The Boston Globe .

Massachusetts requires three people to agree to send such an alert, he said.

First, a dispatcher and a duty officer together would create an alert message. Then, one of three MEMA executives — the director, deputy director, or chief of response or field services — would have to authorize the message, he said.

Nevertheless, the Hawaii mistake prompted the state to assess the state’s emergency alert system and will review current protocols.

“We’re looking for any place to change or tighten up our procedures,” Schwartz said.

Massachusetts also appears to use a different type of alert system than Hawaii’s.

Hawaii uses a single communications platform to test alerts, as well as to issue real ones, but Massachusetts has a two-step system. Schwartz said.

To send a test alert, a MEMA employee has to log off of a live system and log on to another platform. The system prevents a test message from being inadvertently sent as an actual warning, he said.