FCC Investigating After Hawaii’s Ballistic Missile False Alarm Notification

ajit pai

Sunday was a scary time, especially if you live or were visiting Hawaii.  I mean, it was scary for everyone, but imagine what it would have been like to receive that message indicating that there was going to be a missile attack? Well, now the Emergency Management Agency is finding themselves in some hot water. FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, has confirmed that the regulator’s investigation into the error is well underway.  Pai didn’t get into a lot of details, but he did say that early findings suggest that Hawaii didn’t have reasonable safeguards or process controls to prevent a mistaken alert.  I mean, rightfully so.

Pai labeled the alarm as “absolutely unacceptable”.  I can’t decide what is worse though, the alert itself or the fact that it didn’t get noticed for a full 38 minutes afterward.  38 minutes! Were people seeking shelter per the instructions of the alert? Pai notes that his office is currently in contact with local, state, and federal authorities to determine just how the alert went out.  He called on officials at all levels of government to identify and eliminate similar vulnerabilities.  While I think that the FCC should have some involvement in this because it has to do with communications, but I think other factors are in play here.

ballistic missile

There is the emergency aspect of it all.  If you’re not familiar with government protocol, there is a lot of planning and analysis that goes into ensuring that if there is an emergency, officials are able to communicate that to the public.  Not only that, but there are all kinds of contingency plans that need to be developed and executed.  Communication is a huge part of it, but not the only part.  The fact that the communication gets sent out via text message is the only connection that the FCC has to this. Again, I am not suggesting that it shouldn’t be investigated, but I’m wondering if this is a reach for the FCC.

In another post, I suggested that perhaps the bigger issue was a combination of human error and interface design.  I think it’s “easy” to point fingers in this case, but the fact that the message got sent out isn’t the only concern, in my opinion.

Governor David Ige has admitted that “human error” had caused the false alarm.  He stated, “we are working to evaluate everything in the sequence of today’s activities, so a single person will not be able to make an error that triggers another false alarm”.  Which was kind of my point in the other post.  Why is this able to be sent out by one person?  In order to get into my Twitter account, I need a two-factor authentication, but I could send out a ballistic missile warning on my own? Does that seem right?  It will be interesting to see what the FCC’s investigation comes back with though.  Maybe they will mandate something like two-factor authentication.  Or maybe they will just point fingers.  Stay tuned for Pai’s recommendations.

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