Can a false ‘missile alert’ happen here?

SEATTLE — The false alarm of a missile attack on Hawaii over the weekend raises questions about whether something like that could happen here in Washington.

The Washington Military Department is responsible for providing any notifications if a similar incident occurred in our state.

“It’s important to note some differences between Washington and Hawaii. Most important, we don’t have pre-scripted messages regarding a possible nuclear attack in the can,” said Karina Shagren, a spokesperson with the Washington Military Department.

That means someone would have to type out the message and have it go through additional layers of scrutiny before the message was sent out to the public.

“That said, you can never fully eliminate human error. We will certainly take a closer look at what happened in Hawaii and use lessons learned to strengthen our own alert system,” added Shagren.

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., said as soon as she returns to Washington, D.C., she plans to look at what went wrong and take up the issue so it doesn’t happen again.

“It should never be something where someone can simply press the wrong button by accident. We need to make sure the appropriate safeguards are in place and people have accurate information and approvals and folks are working together so that accurate information is getting out into the public.”

Scott Heinze, with the Pierce County Emergency Management Office, said many steps must happen before people in Western Washington get any kind of an alert on their phones. First, the feds notify the state, then local government, before anything goes out to residents.

“It takes multiple steps, so you can’t have a single point of failure,” said Heinze.

State officials said the public should use this as an opportunity to review their own preparedness plans.

“As we’ve said before, we face much larger threats that could force people to be on their own, including floods, fires and earthquakes,” added Shagren.