False mis­sile alert ter­ri­fies Hawaii

The Timaru Herald - - WORLD -

UNITED STATES: Emer­gency alerts sent to the cell­phones of Hawaii res­i­dents yes­ter­day warn­ing of a ‘‘bal­lis­tic mis­sile threat’’ were a false alarm, of­fi­cials said. Nev­er­the­less, the mes­sages, re­port­edly sent by mis­take, alarmed those in a state where fears of an attack by North Korea have been height­ened in re­cent months.

Shortly af­ter 8am lo­cal time, sev­eral Hawaii res­i­dents be­gan post­ing screen­shots of alerts they had re­ceived, read­ing: ‘‘BAL­LIS­TIC MIS­SILE THREAT IN­BOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IM­ME­DI­ATE SHEL­TER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.’’

At least 10 min­utes went by with no of­fi­cial word or fol­low-up. At 8.20am lo­cal time, the Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency tweeted there was threat to the state.

The Navy also con­firmed in an email to The Washington Post the no mis­sile emer­gency alerts had been sent in er­ror.

‘‘USPACOM has de­tected no bal­lis­tic mis­sile threat to Hawaii,’’ Com­man­der Dave Ben­ham, a spokesman for US Pa­cific Com­mand, said in an email. ‘‘Ear­lier mes­sage was sent in er­ror. State of Hawaii will send out a cor­rec­tion mes­sage as soon as pos­si­ble.’’

At 8.45am lo­cal time, an ad­di­tional alert was sent to Hawaii res­i­dents ad­vis­ing them that the first warn­ing had been a false alarm.

‘‘There is no mis­sile threat or dan­ger to the State of Hawaii,’’ the fol­low-up alert read, ac­cord­ing to screen­shots of the mes­sage. ‘‘Re­peat. False Alarm.’’

It is un­clear how or why the ini­tial alert was sent out, and how many peo­ple re­ceived it. Wire­less emer­gency alerts are usu­ally dis­patched dur­ing crit­i­cal emer­gency sit­u­a­tions and are a part­ner­ship be­tween the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion, FEMA and the wire­less in­dus­try. Shortly af­ter the false alarm, FCC chair­man Ajit Pai said the com­mis­sion was launch­ing a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion into what hap­pened.

‘‘While I am thank­ful this morn­ing’s alert was a false alarm, the pub­lic must have con­fi­dence in our emer­gency alert sys­tem,’’ Gover­nor David Ige tweeted. ‘‘I am work­ing to get to the bot­tom of this so we can pre­vent an er­ror of this type in the fu­ture.’’

Deputy White House press sec­re­tary Lind­say Wal­ters said Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had been briefed on the sit­u­a­tion and added it was ‘‘purely a state ex­er­cise.’’

What was clear was that the er­ro­neous alerts caused a brief panic among those who read it and ex­pected the worst.

Court­ney McLaugh­lin, a wed­ding co-or­di­na­tor on Kauai is­land, said the alerts quickly turned a serene morn­ing into ‘‘mass hys­te­ria’’ on the roads.

‘‘My boyfriend was like, ‘Who do we sue for this?’ We don’t just need an apol­ogy, we need an ex­pla­na­tion. Some­one could have had a heart attack,’’ McLaugh­lin, 29, said. ‘‘It took some­thing that’s kind of in­com­pre­hen­si­ble and very quickly made it very per­sonal. All of a sud­den go­ing through your mind is, ‘Is this the end of my life?’ I called my mum, I called my dad, I called my brother and ba­si­cally said my good­byes.’’

On CNN, Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard, D-Hawaii, said she re­ceived the alert, called Hawaii of­fi­cials right away and con­firmed it was ‘‘an in­ad­ver­tent mes­sage that was sent out.’’

‘‘You can only imag­ine what kicked in,’’ Gab­bard told CNN. ‘‘This is a real threat fac­ing Hawaii, so peo­ple got this mes­sage on their phones and they thought, 15 min­utes, we have 15 min­utes be­fore me and my fam­ily could be dead.’’

Less than two months ago, Hawaii re­in­stated its Cold War-era nu­clear warn­ing sirens amid grow­ing fears of an attack by North Korea. Tests of the sirens were sched­uled to be con­ducted on the first busi­ness day of ev­ery month for the fore­see­able fu­ture. There were no planned tests for the cell­phone alerts, sim­i­lar to those sent out to warn of danger­ous weather. - Washington Post

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