Hawaii's Ballistic Missile Attack False Alarm Could Have Been Avoided

January 16, 2018

An early-morning emergency alert warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack was dispatched to cellphones across Hawaii on January 13, 2018, setting off widespread panic. It was determined that the alert was a false alarm and resulted from human error. Acoustic Technology, Inc. (ATI), a leader in the mass notification industry, has long anticipated the potential for such vulnerabilities.

To avoid such catastrophic errors, ATI’s MassAlert® software adopts a “two-point” validation concept. This design is to prevent accidental system activations by a single individual.

In practice, once one operator activates a system another operator is prompted to confirm system activation. The second operator can be notified through various means including SMS, automated phone call, smartphone application, and others. 

It is possible for a group of multiple persons to be prompted in case of system activation. Any of these operators can respond to the request for confirmation of the alert. In the event of a true emergency speed of notification is imperative. Instead of depending on a single confirming operator, who may be unavailable, this option ensures an immediate response.

ATI’s sirens ensure that when an emergency management team sounds an all clear the message is heard by everyone affected. Often cellphone networks will be overloaded by panicking people trying to reach their families to make sure they are safe. In this situation, the use of traditional sirens is the best and most effective means of communication.