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Hawaii governor: I was slow to correct the bogus missile scare because I forgot my Twitter password

Gov. David Ige took 17 minutes to tell people there was no missile headed toward Hawaii.

False alarm emergency alert for Hawaii. Alison Teal/Getty Images
Emily Stewart covered business and economics for Vox and wrote the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

Hawaii’s ballistic missile scare earlier this month took the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency 38 minutes to correct. It took the state’s governor 17 minutes to tell everyone it was fake on Twitter — which, while faster, still isn’t ideal.

Now we know the explanation: Gov. David Ige didn’t know his Twitter password.

Ige, after delivering his State of the State address on Monday, told reporters the reason it took him nearly 20 minutes to tweet, “There is NO missile threat,” is that he didn’t have his ducks in a row, password-wise. “I have to confess that I don’t know my Twitter account log-ons and the passwords, so certainly that’s one of the changes I made,” the Hawaii Democrat told the Honolulu Star Advertiser. “I’ve been putting that on my phone so that we can access the social media directly.”

Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency mistakenly sent an alert at 8:07 am Pacific time on Saturday, January 13, warning of a ballistic missile threat inbound to the state. Ige sent out his tweet saying there was no threat at 8:24 am Pacific.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) beat him to it by five minutes.

Cindy McMillan, a spokeswoman for Governor Ige, said in an email that the governor’s Twitter and Facebook accounts have always been updated and managed by staff. “Going forward, he will be able to log in on his phone to post in an emergency situation. However, staff will continue to post to and manage both accounts on a day-to-day basis,” she said.

The accidental alert, which officials have said was the fault of a single employee pushing the “wrong button,” sent panic across Hawaii across the state of Hawaii earlier this month. “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” a message, sent to thousands of phones and flashed on television, said.

The alert has raised questions about emergency alert system processes and nuclear preparedness across the country. How could something like that happen because of a single human error, especially in light of tensions between the United States and North Korea and global nuclear proliferation?

“Everything is on hair trigger, so any possible mistake is very unsettling, to say the least,” Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, told me earlier this month. “It reminds us how precarious the nuclear age is on so many levels, and it’s really unsettling.”

Hawaiian officials told the New York Times soon after the incident that a new procedure has been implemented requiring two people to sign off before an alert like Saturday’s is sent, and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency released a timeline of events surrounding the alert.

In a statement after the incident, Ige apologized for the incident and promised to get to the bottom of it. “The Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency is committed to protecting the people of Hawai‘i, and over the past year it has been taking responsible measures to prepare for the highly unlikely event of a missile attack,” he said, in part. “As a state government, we must learn from this unfortunate error and continue to prepare for any safety threat to Hawai‘i’s residents and visitors – whether it is a man-made threat or a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tsunami.”

He also tweeted out the statement. As mentioned, he’s figured out his password. (Let’s hope he also has two-factor authentication to make him harder to hack.)

Update: Story updated with comment from Governor Ige’s spokeswoman.

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