RIEMA Director: Several steps go into sending an emergency alert

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — In the wake of a false alert about a missile attack in Hawaii last weekend, Eyewitness News spoke to the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency about how the state’s alert system operates.

Just after 8 a.m. Saturday, smartphones across Hawaii began displaying the message, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

The message sent residents and tourists into a full-blown panic, bracing for a missile that never came.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted about 10 minutes later that there was no threat and a revised push alert was sent out some time after that.

RIEMA Director Peter Gaynor Tuesday said there are several steps that take place before an emergency alert is sent out.

“It prompts us to re-review what our processes are,” Gaynor said. “To make sure that, ‘hey, is there a flaw that maybe is built in that we haven’t seen yet?'”

“It’s a mistake that you don’t want to make,” he continued. “Although we do make mistakes. Human is in the chain, so these things are bound to happen.”

When RIEMA sends alerts, there are two main systems the state uses, according to Gaynor. The first is the state’s own code red system, typically used for local events like boil-water notices or traffic issues. The second is the FCC-approved emergency alert system, which each state has and can be used to target the entire state or just a specific area if need be.

“It’s the most powerful mass notification system that we have,” Gaynor said.