January 25, 2018 / 4:02 PM / 3 months ago

UPDATE 2-U.S. senator from Hawaii: States should not send missile alerts

(Adds details on FCC reviewing tsunami alerts, additional senator quotes)

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON, Jan 25 (Reuters) - U.S. Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii said on Thursday that state and local governments should be prevented from sending missile alerts like the errant one that roiled his state this month.

At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) disclosed that the employee who sent the errant alert will not speak to investigators.

Schatz, a top Democrat on the committee, said at the hearing he was introducing legislation that would clarify that only the federal government could send nuclear alerts.

The alert stirred panic in the Pacific island state. The Federal Communications Commission’s bureau chief overseeing public safety, Lisa Fowlkes, told the committee that the employee that sent the errant alert is refusing to cooperate with its probe and has not been interviewed by FCC investigators.

Fowlkes said she was “quite pleased” by the cooperation of the Hawaii agency’s leadership but “disappointed” that the person who transmitted the false alert is not cooperating. “We hope that person will reconsider,” she said.

She said the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency told the FCC “it is working with its vendor to integrate additional technical safeguards into its alert origination software, and has changed its protocols to require two individuals to sign off on the transmission of tests and live alerts.”

She added that “federal, state, and local officials throughout the country need to work together to identify any vulnerabilities to false alerts and do what’s necessary to fix them.” She noted the correction was not issued for 38 minutes and said faulty alerts must be quickly corrected.

The incident should not be repeated, senators said. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune called the missile event “inexcusable.” Senator Amy Klobuchar said “clearly changes have to be made” to prevent future incidents.

State authorities blamed human error for the false alarm in Hawaii on Jan. 13.

The FCC has said Hawaii apparently did not have adequate safeguards in place.

The FCC is reviewing why some radio stations were unable to transmit tsunami alerts in Alaska this week in a timely fashion. Senator Dan Sullivan said some wireless carriers in Alaska were also unable to transmit tsunami alerts.

The FCC is working to better target alerts to impacted people and will vote next week on a proposal.

The Senate Commerce Committee is planning another hearing about the Hawaii alert, and a U.S. House of Representatives panel will also hold a hearing. (Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)

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