FEMA: Ige, Miyagi Wrong About 38 Minute Delay
by Andrew Walden
Why did Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HIEMA) officials take 38 minutes to send out a retraction of Saturday’s missile attack false alarm message?
Governor Ige and HIEMA administrator Vern Miyagi say they had to obtain permission from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
In response to an inquiry from Hawai’i Free Press, FEMA says that’s not true. States are authorized to cancel or retract warning messages on their own.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, January 14, 2018 reports:
Vern Miyagi, administrator for HIEMA, said Saturday that the agency had to wait to make the retraction until it had authorization from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Governor David Ige said Saturday that the state didn’t have a process in place to issue a cancellation and the correction had to be done manually after receiving federal approval.
HIEMA's official 'timeline' of events Saturday likewise states: "8:45 a.m. – After getting authorization from FEMA Integral Public Alert and Warning System, HIEMA issued a 'Civil Emergency Message' remotely."
Hawai’i Free Press showed these comments to FEMA and asked if FEMA authorization is required to retract a state-issued false alarm. FEMA says no.
FEMA press spokesperson Jenny Burke responds:
FEMA approval was not required to send the retraction message. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency possess the authority, established in 2012 when they applied for Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS) access, to cancel or retract Hawaii Emergency Management Agency-initiated warnings, without intervention or approval from FEMA.
Burke explains that “alerting authority” is a state function established in the state’s original 2012 IPAWS agreement with FEMA:
Public safety organizations that wish to use IPAWS for public alerting follow a 4 step process which includes a step where they establish their alerting authorities and permissions through the state. This 4 step process is outlined here (www.fema.gov/how-sign-ipaws) and paraphrased as follows:
1. Obtain IPAWS-compatible alerting software
2. Sign a Memorandum of Agreement with FEMA for access to IPAWS
3. Obtain alerting authority (what you can send and where you can send it) through the state (the state approves this authority, not FEMA)
4. Take online IPAWS training through the Emergency Management Institute (https://training.fema.gov/is/courseoverview.aspx?code=is-247.a)
While every jurisdiction is unique and establishes its own policies and procedures, it is generally understood that the alert originator should have all necessary approvals beforehand in order to reduce delays.
The Star Advertiser today reports HIEMA Information Officer Richard Rapoza “said the department also has confirmed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency that it can use the agency’s alert system to notify the public so that it ‘now has a process to immediately retract a false message if necessary.’”
This implies that Miyagi was operating under a false belief that a Federal authorization was required He likely repeated this to Ige who then joined Miyagi in disseminating it to the media Saturday and Sunday.
Hawai’i Free Press asked the Governor’s office for additional comment. Will update if a response is received.
UPDATE Jan 16, 2018 11am: We received this response from Cindy McMillan, Director of Communications, Office of the Governor:
“HIEMA staff felt they had to coordinate with FEMA because it’s FEMA’s system and they wanted to make sure it was done correctly.”
UPDATE Jan 17, 2018 5pm: FEMA: Hawaii Did Not Call Until 8:30AM
UPDATE Jan 15, 2018 6pm: KHON took a lead from our story and on this evening's news got HIEMA spokesperson Richard Rapoza to respond. Here are some key excerpts. Watch how Rapoza dances and spins:
…Approval was not needed per FEMA, yet that’s where the state told us Saturday they lost a lot of time….
KHON2 asked HI-EMA, why the discrepancy?
“I’m not going to say it was needed,” HI-EMA spokesperson Richard Rapoza said. “At this point that’s part of our investigation to see if it was absolutely required, but the answer wasn’t clear to us at the time.”
KHON2 asked, why cast it as an authorization and approval needed on Saturday?
“I think there was actually some confusion at the time,” Rapoza said. “When Vern and the governor and various people spoke Saturday, we were right on the heels of a big event. And so getting all of our information straight, making sure everybody understood exactly what was going on, was a bit of a challenge. So people might have used words, they may have used nomenclature, that may have characterized things in a way that was fast or convenient as opposed to absolutely carefully worded.”
HI-EMA now tells Always Investigating they called FEMA for guidance on how to distribute the all-clear, asking for help, not permission, on how to send a correction.
“Because it wasn’t built into the system it wasn’t absolutely clear what appropriate channel of IPAWS was to send the message out,” Rapoza said.
KHON2 asked: Why even take the time to even ask what’s “appropriate” again when the most inappropriate thing had just happened?
“At that point there’s an argument made that we didn’t want to add insult to injury and start running around just trying one thing after another,” Rapoza said. “It’s important to do it properly.”
“The state called us that morning to discuss the false alert and to ask for technical guidance, which we provided during that call,” FEMA’s spokesperson told KHON2….
FEMA tries to head these kinds of mistakes off with standard guidance, such as a 2015 field guide for states and agencies to build their front-end interfaces with an “easily accessed ‘Cancel’ function. Yet despite that advice from FEMA in black and white, dating back years, HI-EMA had no cancel button before Saturday….
AP Jan 16, 2018: FEMA: Hawaii Didn’t Need Approval To Retract Missile Alert
SA Jan 17, 2018: Miyagi admitted, “we did not need the FEMA authorization alert.”