I-Team Report: Emergency Warning Protocol - WNEM TV 5

I-Team Report: Emergency Warning Protocol

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A tsunami alert had New York on the edge which turned out to be a false alarm.

Last month there was a missile warning in Hawaii that was also a false alarm.

What’s to prevent unnecessary scares like those in Michigan?

“Here you have in government that’s doing everything they think is correct, they sent the message out and it caused a lot of panic,” said Captain Chris Kelenske, the Deputy State Director for Emergency Management and Homeland Security for Michigan.

It was 38 minutes of sheer terror in Hawaii after a state management worker confused a ballistic missile alert drill for the real thing.

“They thought they were doing the right thing, unfortunately, they missed some key messaging but I felt for them and I felt for the people of Hawaii,” Kelenske said.

The worker who sent an emergency alert to “take cover” to every phone, computer, and television in the state, that mistake has emergency management departments across the nation to take a second look.

“Anytime something happens like this whether it’s a real event or an exercise in another state of at the local level, if they identify a potential issue then we’re gonna look at what we do so that we don’t have to repeat or have that same issue,” Kelenske said.

Kelenske said the state is well equipped to handle a high-security situation like a missile attack and while he said it would be very rare, he breaks down that process.

“We do have the ability here in Michigan to put an emergency alert out statewide,” Kelenske said. “The authority for that only comes from three people, the Governor, Lt. Governor, and the Director of the State Police. Once that authority is granted to me, I get with our Operations Lieutenants who are in the 24/7 warning point and we would draft that message and push that out statewide.”

The operations center at the Michigan State Police headquarters in Lansing is where all the critical information is received and then pushed out to the public.

“If there’s an incident that’s occurring in Michigan the Operations Lieutenant or the Operation Desk or our Watch Officers,” Kelenske said. “They're going to be notified.”

Kelenske said that much of this is done at the state level, but officials do play a role.

“Locally we have an ability to send out alerts as well but they would be more of a local nature. The 9-1-1 system not working, a localized weather emergency, hazardous material incident, things like that,” said Mark Przybyski, the Emergency Manager of Saginaw County.

Now Kelenske says he’s confident that the system in place here in Michigan would be effective if ever needed.

“We are constantly training and exercising,” Kelenske said. “We have nuclear power plants here in Michigan, so we do drills and exercises for that.”

And there’s even a plan in place to protect the technology that sends out that alert.

“With any of our systems there are protections to prevent the hacking,” Kelenske said.

The big question, could what happened in Hawaii happen here?

“Anytime humans are involved, there’s always potential for error to occur,” Kelenske said. “But this is why we train this is why we exercise, to make sure we minimize the possibility of mistakes.”

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