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Hawaii worker who sent false alert had problems but kept job

Audrey McAvoy,/The Associated Press/Jan. 30, 2018

HONOLULU -- Hawaii emergency management officials knew for years that an employee had problems performing his job. Then, he sent a false alert warning of an imminent missile attack earlier this month.

The worker had mistakenly believed drills for tsunami and fire warnings were actual events, and colleagues were not comfortable working with him, the state said Tuesday. His supervisors counselled him but kept him for a decade in a position that had to be renewed each year.

The problems in the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency went beyond one troubled employee. The agency had a vague checklist for missile alerts, allowing workers to interpret the steps they should follow differently. Managers didn't require a second person to sign off on alerts before they were sent, and the agency lacked any preparation on how to correct a false warning.

Those details emerged Tuesday in federal and state reports investigating how the agency mistakenly blasted cellphones and broadcast stations Jan. 13 with a warning that led hundreds of thousands of people to believe they were about to die in a nuclear attack. It took nearly 40 minutes to retract it.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi resigned as the reports were released. Officials revealed that the employee who sent the alert was fired Friday. His name has not been revealed. A second worker quit before disciplinary action was taken, and another was being suspended without pay, officials said.

"The protocols were not in place. It was a sense of urgency to put it in place as soon as possible. But those protocols were not developed to the point they should have," retired Brig. Gen. Bruce Oliveira, who wrote the report on Hawaii's internal investigation, said at a news conference.

A Federal Communications Commission report revealed Tuesday that the worker who pushed out the alert thought an actual attack was imminent. It was the first indication the alert was purposely sent, adding another level of confusion to the misstep that created panic at a time of fear over the threat of North Korean missiles.

The worker believed there was a real attack because of a mistake in how the drill was initiated during a shift change, according to the FCC, which regulates the nation's airwaves and sets standards for such emergency alerts. The employee said he didn't hear the word "exercise" repeated six times, though others clearly heard it.

There was no requirement to double-check with a colleague or get a supervisor's approval before sending the warning statewide, the federal agency said.

"There were no procedures in place to prevent a single person from mistakenly sending a missile alert" in Hawaii, said James Wiley, a cybersecurity and communications reliability staffer at the FCC.

Compounding the issue was that the state Emergency Management Agency had no prepared message for a false alarm. The FCC criticized the state's 38-minute delay in correcting it.

In addition, software at the Hawaii agency used the same prompts for both test and actual alerts, and it generally used prepared text that made it easy for a staffer to click through the alerting process without focusing enough on the text of the warning that would be sent.

"The reports from the FCC and the state of Hawaii demonstrate systems and judgment failures on multiple levels, and they reinforce my belief that missile alerts should be handled by the federal government," said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat from Hawaii, who plans legislation to give federal officials that sole responsibility.

The FCC said the state emergency agency has taken steps to try to avoid a repeat of the false alert, requiring more supervision of drills and alert and test-alert transmissions. It has created a correction template for false alerts and has stopped ballistic missile defence drills for now.

Earlier this month, the worker who sent the alert heard a recorded message that began by saying "exercise, exercise, exercise" -- the script for a drill, the FCC said. Then the recording used language that is typically used for a real threat, not a drill: "This is not a drill." The recording ended by saying "exercise, exercise, exercise."

Once the employee sent the false alert, he was directed to send a cancel message but instead "just sat there and didn't respond," the state report said. Later, another employee took over the computer and sent the correction because the worker "seemed confused."

Gov. David Ige was asked why Hawaii didn't reveal details about the employee earlier, and he said it would have been irresponsible to release statements before the investigation was complete.

Ige has asked the Hawaii National Guard's deputy commander to prepare another report on what needs to be changed in the emergency management system overall. The first version of that report is due in two weeks, with a final version due in six weeks.

Associated Press Technology Writer Tali Arbel contributed to this report from New York.

And in Canada

More murder charges as remains found in planters

Josh K. Elliott/CTV News/Jan. 29, 2018

Toronto investigators have charged Bruce McArthur with three additional counts of first-degree murder, and say more charges may be pending as they search large planters around the city for human remains. The new charges are in connection with the deaths of Majeed Kayhan, Soroush Mahmudi and Dean Lisowick.

Authorities told reporters on Monday that they have recovered the remains of three unidentified bodies from a property connected to McArthur, a 66-year-old self-employed landscaper.

“These remains have not yet been identified,” Det. Sgt. Hank Idsinga said at a news conference Monday. He said the remains were recovered from large planters at a residence McArthur is known to have used for storage.

“They’ve been hidden in the bottoms of these planters,” Idsinga said.

Idsinga acknowledged that it’s fair to characterize the string of murders as a serial killing.

“It’s a serial killer - alleged serial killer,” he told reporters, adding: “The City of Toronto has never seen anything like this.”

Kayhan, 58, had been among three missing men sought as part of the Toronto Police Service’s Project Houston, which was launched in 2012.

Mahmudi, 50, was reported missing by his family in Scarborough in 2015.

Lisowick was never reported missing, but Idsinga said it’s believed he was killed at the age of 43 or 44, sometime between May of 2016 and July of 2017. “He was an occupant of the shelter system in Toronto,” Idsinga said.

Idsinga said McArthur is known to have worked at 30 different properties within Toronto. Police have contacted the owners of those properties and have searched the majority of them, but are encouraging others who may have employed him to contact investigators.

“We do believe there are more, and I have no idea how many more there are going to be,” Idsinga said. “We’ll lay more charges as we get them.”

Police have not indicated the exact nature of the evidence that led to the charges. However, a source tells CTV News that photographs of the alleged victims were also found at McArthur’s residence.

McArthur was charged on Jan. 18 in connection with the deaths of Andrew Kinsman, 49, and Selim Esen, 44, who went missing last summer from Toronto’s gay village. Their bodies have not been found.

Idsinga said the murders do not all fit a clear pattern, as not all of them are Middle Eastern or members of Toronto’s gay community.

“It certainly encompasses more than the gay community – it encompasses the city of Toronto,” he said.

Police are now looking at disappearances from at least as far back as 2010.

Kayhan was one of three missing men who was never found as part of Project Houston. Skandaraj Navaratnam, 40, and Abdulbasir Faizi, 42, were also sought as part of the investigation, and have not been found.

Court documents brought to light last week indicate that McArthur has an assault conviction dating back to an incident from 2001. The self-employed landscaper was found guilty of one count of assault causing bodily harm and one count of assault with a weapon. He was handed a two-year conditional sentence in 2003 and ordered to receive counselling. He was also barred from visiting Toronto’s Church and Wellesley neighbourhood, and from spending time with male prostitutes.

The first-degree murder charges against McArthur have not been tested in court.

B.C. city named Canada’s No. 2 place for millennials, and it sure isn’t Vancouver

By Jesse Ferreras and Kylie Stanton/Global News/Jan. 30, 2018

Victoria has long carried a reputation as a place for the “newlywed and nearly dead.”

But a report by housing portal Point2 Homes has accorded it a new status: as one of Canada’s top hot spots for millennials.

The report looked at a number of factors when ranking cities and towns.

They included climate, unemployment, health care, the crime rate, level of education, life satisfaction - and housing affordability.

Victoria ranked second out of 85 cities in the report, trailing only Quebec City.

B.C.’s capital received top marks in areas including life satisfaction, climate and millennials as a percentage of the population.

But what’s attracting people to Victoria?

For Martin Nikleva, one attractant was the “beautiful weather.”

He also said there’s “lots of great food, lots of cool activities, lots of young people in town.”

“Victoria is growing and changing,” said city Mayor Lisa Helps.

“But it’s the scale of Victoria - the small, compact nature of it, that makes it what it is and I think that’s what’s attracting people here.”

The report ranked the city lower when it came to the crime rate (ranking at number 38) and home prices (ranking at number 61).

Victoria ranked in about the middle of the pack of Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) when it comes to the most recent Crime Severity Index.

But CMAs are broad areas - Victoria’s includes Saanich, which was counted separately in the Point2 Homes report.

Victoria has also been flagged for concern when it comes to home prices.

RBC’s most recent “Housing Trends and Affordability” report named Victoria as one of three cities that saw their worst affordability levels ever, in the third quarter of 2017.

The housing market there is being boosted by factors such as “steady job creation and one of the lower unemployment rates in the country,” according to RBC.

Victoria also isn’t subject to a foreign buyers’ tax like Metro Vancouver is.

There’s construction all over the city, in what is a clear sign of the demand for housing.

It’s transforming the city’s skyline, and its reputation as a sleepy capital.

Vancouver, meanwhile, ranked 10th in the Point2 Homes report - its housing affordability coming in dead last, with an average home price of $1,439,652, according to the portal.

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