On January 13, what should have been a lazy Saturday morning for Hawaiians turned into the unthinkable. The state’s Emergency Alert System warned residents that a missile was headed toward the island—and this was not a drill. For 38 agonizing minutes, residents and the state’s many tourists feared that they were in the crosshairs of a nuclear attack.

Of course, the threat turned out to be a false alarm—an operator at the Hawaii State Emergency Management Agency accidentally sent out the warning. At no point did state or military officials actually believe an attack was underway, but the psychological impact on the state’s citizens, and their subsequent anger is real. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has promised a full investigation.

Womble Bond Dickinson telecom lawyer John Garziglia discussed the incident at length with Radio Ink. He said radio stations should have established procedures for obtaining and verifying emergency and disaster information.

“No radio station should ever take at face value journalistically or otherwise an official-appearing pronouncement. Call to verify, call for further information – have procedures in place to keep your station from being punked or scammed,” Garziglia said. “On the other hand, it is wise to caution against making too much of the Hawaii one-off errant emergency message SNAFU. Emergency messages are meant to save lives. Ignoring emergency proclamations could mean the difference between lives saved and death. The Hawaii fiasco should be a friendly reminder to broadcast stations that being part of your community’s emergency notification fabric is essential to your station's integrity as well as to public safety.”

Click here to read “Pai Promises Full Investigation” at Radio Ink.

John Garziglia represents radio and television broadcasters, offering personalized assistance in all areas of communications and telecommunications law including transactional and contract negotiations for broadcast station mergers and acquisitions, the securing of financing, governmental auctions of new frequencies, license renewals, new stations applications, facility changes, facility upgrades, licensing, and compliance with FCC rules, regulations and policies.