FCC says launching full inquiry into false Hawaii missile alert

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission said on Saturday it was launching a full investigation into a false emergency alert that said a ballistic missile was headed for Hawaii, the chairman of the commission said.

The alerts to Hawaii cellphone users were issued at about 8:07 a.m. local time (1807 GMT), saying “ballistic missile threat inbound” and urging residents to seek shelter immediately. The message also appeared on Hawaii television stations, according to news reports. The alert was officially canceled about 38 minutes later.

The FCC has jurisdiction over the emergency alert system. Earlier this week, Pai said the FCC would vote at its January meeting to enhance the effectiveness of wireless emergency alerts, which have been in place since 2012.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai posted on Twitter that the FCC was launching a full investigation and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the commission must find out what went wrong.

“Emergency alerts are meant to keep us and our families safe, not to create false panic. We must investigate and we must do better,” she wrote on Twitter.

CNN reported Hawaiian Governor David Ige told reporters the mistake was the result of human error and someone at the state emergency management agency pushed the “wrong button” during a shift change.

Wireless carriers do not prepare or write the alerts but they run simultaneously on all networks.

The FCC is working to better target alerts to impacted people and will vote this month on a proposal to “more precisely target these alerts to affected communities.”

Pai is proposing that providers “deliver these alerts to match the geographic area specified by the officials sending the alert with no more overshoot than one-tenth of a mile,” he said in a statement earlier this week.

Pai said the improved alerts will “lead Americans to take more seriously the alerts they receive on their mobile devices.”

By David Shepardson

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