False missile alert terrifies Hawaii
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