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Hawaii Senator: Feds Should Handle Missile Alerts

A screen capture from a Twitter account shows a missile warning for Hawaii, Jan. 13, 2018, in this picture obtained from social media.

After an errant ballistic missile alert terrified residents and visitors on Hawaii earlier this month, a senator from the Pacific island state says he will introduce a bill that would mandate that only the federal government could send nuclear alerts.

Senator Brian Schatz said it made no sense for local authorities to alert the public of such an event.

"A missile attack is federal," Schatz told a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Thursday. "A missile attack is not a local responsibility. Confirmation and notification of something like a missile attack should reside with the agency that knows first and knows for sure. In other words, the people who know should be the people who tell us."

The hearing was held in response to the January 13 alert that was sent to millions of residents and visitors on Hawaii telling them a ballistic missile was heading toward them and they should take shelter.

The message, which specifically said "This is not a drill," was not retracted for 38 minutes.

The Federal Communications Commission, which oversees the technical standards behind the alerts, has launched an investigation.

Lisa Fowlkes, chief of public safety and homeland security for the FCC, said the mistake was unacceptable and has eroded the public trust.

She told the committee that while she was "quite pleased" by the cooperation of Hawaiian leaders, she was "disappointed" that the person who transmitted the false alert is not cooperating with the FCC and has yet to be interviewed by investigators.

"We hope that person will reconsider,'' she said.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has not identified the employee. He continues to work at the agency, though has been reassigned to a section where he doesn't have access to the warning system.

An FCC spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a question about what reason the employee has given for not cooperating with its probe.