Hawaii Distributed Phony Image Of Missile Warning Screen

Gov. David Ige's office sent out a screenshot of menu options for emergency warnings that it thought was real.
By Marcel Honore /
Reading time: 3 minutes.

Officials in Gov. David Ige’s office released what they now say is an inaccurate image of the computer screen an employee was looking at when a false missile alert was sent out to hundreds of thousands of Hawaii residents and visitors.

The image, shared with Civil Beat prior to Ige’s press conference Monday evening, was eventually published by news organizations around the country such as BuzzFeed, Yahoo News and The Washington Post.

The point was to show the public exactly what the worker saw when he clicked on the screen, sending out a cellphone alert that spread widespread panic and fear across Hawaii.

State officials now say this screen shot, which appeared in many news outlets, doesn’t show the actual interface that the operator who mistakenly set off the false ballistic missile alert would have seen.

Hawaii Emergency Management

However, state officials now say that image was merely an example that showed more options than the employee had on the actual screen.

“We asked (Hawaii Emergency Management Agency) for a screenshot and that’s what they gave us,” Ige spokeswoman Jodi Leong told Civil Beat on Tuesday.  “At no time did anybody tell me it wasn’t a screenshot.”

HEMA Administrator Vern Miyagi texted her the image, Leong said, and she subsequently provided it to the media.

Richard Rapoza, HEMA’s public information officer, said that the agency gave the governor’s office the screenshot without his knowledge.

“It was not handled officially through our office,” Rapoza said Tuesday. “That’s on us. That’s on our office, that an error was made in the way we handled the governor’s request.”

“The governor’s office wanted to know what did this look like and it should have been more fully explained to them. I personally apologize,” he said.

HEMA can’t publicize the actual screen because of security concerns — the system could then then be vulnerable to hackers, Rapoza said.

Hawaii emergency management officials say this facsimile, provided Tuesday, better represents what an employee would have seen on Saturday. However,  the “false alarm” option was only added after the erroneous missile alert was sent out.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency

On Tuesday, the state emergency agency provided what Rapoza described as a “more accurate” look at what a worker might see.

It lists the actual options the worker had Saturday morning during what was supposed to be a drill. It also includes a new “false alarm” option that the agency added after the the false alert, according to Rapoza.

The staffer who triggered the false alarm has been temporarily reassigned.

The confusion over the image comes as Gov. Ige and HEMA face scrutiny over their handling of Saturday’s massive malfunction, and as they work to restore public trust in their leadership.

The first image sent out was widely criticized online Tuesday for what many believed was a crude, “jumbled” design prone to cause mistakes. But that was before state officials disclosed that the interface wasn’t real.

This is not the kind of interface you would expect to see for something this important. https://t.co/0mUWXt33OG

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) January 16, 2018

I was pretty sure terrible UI/UX was the cause of that missile alert, but sweet beard of zeus, it's so much more terrible than I had imagined. https://t.co/19Mz2pIcli

— Josh Pigford (@Shpigford) January 16, 2018

OMFG. This appears to be the interface that was at fault for the ballistic missile alarm on Hawaii. It is way way worse than I possibly could have conjured up in my wildest dreams.https://t.co/4zErizigPZ

— Per Axbom (@axbom) January 16, 2018

Apologies for the profanities: As a UX designer I’m literally losing my shit.

— Jonathan Maimon (@jonmaimon) January 16, 2018

Whatever the real interface looks like, it requires the employee to click through a second warning prompt before sending out the alert, according to state emergency officials.

The drill has been suspended while the state investigates further what happened, and any subsequent tests will require two HI-EMA employees to press the button, they add.

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