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Representative Gabbard Introduces Accountability Bill Following Hawai‘i False Missile Alert

Courtesy of the Office of Representative Tulsi Gabbard.

In response to the false ballistic missile alert sent out across Hawai‘i on January 13, Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) introduced the Civil Defense Accountability Act of 2018 to:

  • Address the vulnerabilities that allowed the false alert to go out to more than a million people across the state and go uncorrected for 38 minutes;
  • Ensure transparent investigations into the incident through online public disclosure requirements;
  • Establish best practices to strengthen state and national preparedness and disaster communications plans; and
  • Evaluate and strengthen preparedness nationwide to respond to biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear attacks to the United States.

Representatives Don Young (AK) and Colleen Hanabusa (HI-01) are original cosponsors of the bipartisan legislation.

The Civil Defense Accountability Act of 2018 would require the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Department of Defense (DoD), and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to publicly disclose incident and recommendation reports about the January 13 false alert. It would also compel ballistic missile civil defense agencies to review the current notification protocols for ballistic missile threats and study the best practices regarding civil defense emergencies to prevent a similar catastrophic mistake. In addition, the bill would instruct the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to publicly detail the ability of HHS and health care providers to respond to a biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear weapons attack.

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here

“The false ballistic missile alert sent out across Hawai‘i corroded public trust and revealed gaps in preparedness measures at every level of government,” said Representative Gabbard. “Given the threats we face and the vulnerabilities that have been exposed, there are serious changes that need to take place at the federal, state, and local levels to ensure this kind of colossal failure never happens again. Along with providing Hawaii’s people with timely answers into what went wrong and why, we also need to investigate the gaps that exist at home and across the country that could trigger or perpetuate future emergencies. Our legislation will ensure the lessons learned from Hawaii’s false alert are used to identify and fix preparedness gaps nationwide.”

“Last month, Hawaiians experienced a terrifying false ballistic missile alert which is unacceptable,” said Congressman Young. “The chaos and uncertainty throughout that situation should not happen again which is why I’m proud to be a cosponsor of this legislation. By addressing the conditions that caused this false alarm to happen in the first place, we can establish and improve best practices for our civil defense operations. This bill will improve public outreach when real emergencies take place which is crucial for restoring people’s trust in their government’s readiness and commitment to public safety.”

“This legislation is an important part of rebuilding the public’s trust in government,” said Congresswoman Hanabusa. “One of our basic responsibilities is to provide public safety, especially in a moment of crisis. The morning of January 13th revealed an unfortunate array of issues within the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA), the protocols and policies that govern the issuance of a ballistic missile alert and the community’s preparation and response. In the weeks since the false alarm, we have heard confusing, often conflicting accounts from state officials about what went wrong and who is responsible. The public deserves a transparent, accurate accounting, like the one recently completed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), so we can make corrections and move forward. This incident also highlighted the need to review HI-EMA’s Attack Warning Signal system and our community response plan in the event of a biological, chemical, radiological or nuclear attack. Mahalo to Congresswoman Gabbard and Congressman Young for their bipartisan efforts to help restore the community’s faith in government and ensure we are better prepared.”

Background: The Civil Defense Accountability Act of 2018 would:

  • Assess Current Reporting Procedures: Within 90 days, the Secretary of Defense, in coordination with the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Director of Federal Communications Commission, is required to submit a report to Congress regarding the current notification protocols for ballistic missile threats. This report will assess the notification protocols required under Federal Law or regulations of federal and state entities and the communications between these entities, after a ballistic missile threat is identified, during a ballistic missile threat, and regarding ballistic missile impact warnings.
  • Establish Best Practices: Within 180 days of enactment, the Secretary of Homeland Security, acting through FEMA, is required to conduct a study to identify the best practices regarding civil defense emergencies. This study will identify plans for local, state, and federal communications before, during, and after a civil defense emergency. In addition, the study will include plans for State communication with residents and local and State security and contingency plans. The initial study shall include no fewer than 13 states, including Hawaii, Alaska, California, Washington, and five states bordering an ocean including the Gulf of Mexico. Within 180 days of enactment, the Secretary of State will also submit a report to Congress regarding the 13 state study including deficiency trends, best practices, and plans to improve public outreach regarding civil defense emergencies. The unclassified portions of this report will be disseminated to states within 270 days.
  • Evaluate Federal Response: Within 60 days of enactment, the Secretary of Defense, the Administrator of FEMA, and the Director of the FCC will provide to Congress and publish an online report detailing their agencies’ actions during the January 13 ballistic missile false alarm in Hawaii. The report will also detail corrective actions and recommendations to prevent future false alarms.
  • Strengthen Public Health Preparedness: Within 180 days, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, through the Office of the Assistant Secretary of for Preparedness and Response, will submit a report to Congress and publish an online report regarding the ability of HHS and health care providers to respond to biological, chemical, radiological, or nuclear weapons attacks on the U.S. The Secretary is also required to submit recommendations to Congress and develop a public outreach program in coordination with local and State entities using these recommendations. The Secretary of Health and Human Services will also take into consideration the recommendations in the report when issuing grants under the Public Health Emergency Preparedness cooperative agreement and the Hospital Preparedness program.

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