‘Mom, are we go­ing to die?’

Hu­man er­ror blamed as Hawaii pan­ics af­ter false mis­sile warn­ing

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - Amy B Wang, Dan Lamothe and Greg Miller

For 38 har­row­ing min­utes, res­i­dents and tourists in Hawaii were left to be­lieve that mis­siles were stream­ing across the sky to­ward the Pa­cific is­land chain af­ter an er­ro­neous alert Satur­day morn­ing by the state’s emer­gency man­age­ment agency.

“Bal­lis­tic mis­sile threat in­bound to Hawaii,” warned an 8:07 a.m. all-cap­i­tal-let­ters mes­sage trans­mit­ted across the state’s cell­phone net­works. “Seek im­me­di­ate shel­ter. This is not a drill.”

Only af­ter an in­ex­pli­ca­ble de­lay by the state agency — dur­ing which res­i­dents scram­bled to seek shel­ter and con­tact rel­a­tives — was a sub­se­quent mes­sage sent de­scrib­ing the mis­sile warn­ing as a “false alarm.”

The fright­en­ing mis­take, which Gov. David Ige, D, later at­trib­uted to a state em­ployee’s er­rant push of a but­ton, prompted out­rage and calls for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into how such an er­ror could oc­cur and take so long to cor­rect. The episode un­der­scored the al­ready height­ened level of anx­i­ety at the western edge of the United States amid mount­ing ten­sions with North Korea over its nu­clear arse­nal and the men­ac­ing so­cial me­dia ex­changes be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and its leader, Kim Jong Un.

On the is­land of Oahu, Adam Kurtz of Palolo woke up four min­utes af­ter the mass alert was sent and be­gan cal­cu­lat­ing how much time he and his wife might have to get to safety — as­sum­ing there could be no more than 15 min­utes be­tween the warn­ing and any mis­sile’s ar­rival.

Kurtz said that he and his wife grabbed the pets, shut the win­dows and shel­tered in their bath­room. “We just jumped out of bed. ... We were more clear­headed than we ex­pected and didn’t panic as much,” he said. “It never really sank in.”

Kurtz said he learned that the alert was false from a friend who

“How can that hap­pen? How can you al­low that to hap­pen? There’s just an anger that goes with it. Even now, I’m shaken that it hap­pened. You go from think­ing you might die to this.” A Navy sailor sta­tioned in Hawaii

con­tacted state De­part­ment of De­fense of­fi­cials.

Ige said the false warn­ing was “a mis­take made dur­ing a stan­dard pro­ce­dure at the changeover of a shift and an em­ployee pushed the wrong but­ton.” At a later news con­fer­ence, Ige and Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency Ad­min­is­tra­tor Vern Miyagi promised that no sin­gle per­son will be able to cause such an er­ror in the fu­ture.

Miyagi said a rule has al­ready been put in place to man­date that two peo­ple be present be­fore the but­ton is pushed to alert for a drill or emer­gency. He also said a can­cel­la­tion mes­sage tem­plate will be cre­ated for such an er­ror sce­nario so a de­lay like Satur­day’s does not hap­pen again. Mil­i­tary posts

But the ex­pla­na­tion on how the alert was sent came only af­ter con­cern over the mis­taken mis­sile warn­ing had spread to U.S. mil­i­tary com­mand posts and been brought to the at­ten­tion of Trump, who is spend­ing the week­end at his Mar-aLago es­tate in Florida.

The false alert prompted U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials to scan sys­tems that mon­i­tor mis­sile launches; they de­ter­mined al­most in­stantly that there was no threat. But of­fi­cials de­scribed con­fu­sion over whether or how the mil­i­tary should cor­rect a state-is­sued alert.

At the North Amer­i­can Aero­space De­fense Com­mand, which tracks the skies for threats to the United States, U.S. troops man­ning the watch floor con­firmed within min­utes that there were no mis­siles bear­ing down on Hawaii. That in­for­ma­tion was quickly re­layed to state of­fi­cials, said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe Nawrocki, a spokesman for the com­mand.

But Hawaii strug­gled to is­sue a com­pre­hen­sive cor­rec­tion. The Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency trans­mit­ted its first “no mis­sile threat” mes­sage within 12 min­utes of the mis­taken alert, but that re­vi­sion only went out on the agency’s Twit­ter ac­count.

It wasn’t un­til 8:45 a.m. that the agency was able to is­sue a stand-down mes­sage across the same cell­phone and cable tele­vi­sion net­works that had spread the ini­tial, er­ro­neous warn­ing. By that time, of­fi­cials from Hawaii in­clud­ing Rep. Tulsi Gab­bard, D, had taken it upon them­selves to dis­trib­ute stand-down mes­sages on so­cial me­dia.

“What hap­pened to­day is to­tally in­ex­cus­able,” Demo­cratic Sen. Brian Schatz said in a post­ing on his Twit­ter ac­count. “The whole state was ter­ri­fied. There needs to be tough and quick ac­count­abil­ity and a fixed process.”

Deputy White House press sec­re­tary Lind­say Wal­ters said Trump had been briefed on the false mis­sile warn­ing in Hawaii. She added that it was “purely a state ex­er­cise.” Of­fi­cials in Hawaii did not char­ac­ter­ize the er­rant alarm as part of any drill or ex­er­cise. Trump on golf course

A se­nior U.S. of­fi­cial told The Post that Trump was at the golf course at Mar-aLago when the alarm was sounded and knew “soon af­ter” that it had been de­ter­mined false. Deputy na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Ricky Wad­dell briefed Trump, who also spoke to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser H.R. McMaster.

Trump later tweeted, but not about Hawaii; he de­cried the me­dia for “Fake News” and ap­peared to call out author Michael Wolff, who wrote the new book “Fire and Fury” about his cam­paign and pres­i­dency.

“So much Fake News is be­ing re­ported. They don’t even try to get it right, or cor­rect it when they are wrong. They pro­mote the Fake Book of a men­tally de­ranged author, who know­ingly writes false in­for­ma­tion. The Main­stream Me­dia is crazed that WE won the elec­tion!” the pres­i­dent tweeted Satur­day.

In the hours af­ter the false alert, im­ages and post­ings on so­cial me­dia showed peo­ple flood­ing area high­ways, crowd­ing into po­lice sta­tions and seek­ing shel­ter in con­crete struc­tures in­clud­ing park­ing garages.

Tricia Padilla, 39, of Kauai, her hus­band and their two chil­dren, ages 10 and 12, hid in a steel ship­ping con­tainer on the lawn of their prop­erty.

“We just flew into full on mom-and-dad mode and tried to pro­tect our kids from the panic of it,” she said.

“My hus­band had my kids put on jeans and ten­nis shoes and we gath­ered up as quickly as we could what we thought we needed to have with us.”

They brought with them ce­real, pro­tein bars, cook­ies, ap­ples, a cooler bag filled with turkey, wa­ter, a 5-gal­lon bucket to use as a toi­let and toi­let pa­per.

“My 10-year-old was kind of melt­ing, sit­ting at my feet rock­ing, say­ing, ‘Mom, are we go­ing to die to­day? Why won’t you an­swer me?’ and I wanted to an­swer him but I couldn’t. It felt like my worst mom mo­ment,” Padilla said.

Toni Foshee, a res­i­dent of Palolo, said she and a friend vis­it­ing from Cal­i­for­nia re­acted as if a hur­ri­cane were com­ing, mak­ing sure her cat was in­doors, shut­ting win­dows and wait­ing.

“I think I was just kind of numb,” she said, adding that they learned the alert was false af­ter call­ing the po­lice.

“When I heard it, my stom­ach dropped,” said Roc Dias of Ka­neohe.

U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel sta­tioned in Hawaii de­scribed mo­ments of near des­per­a­tion.

One Navy sailor, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause he was not au­tho­rized to talk to re­porters, said that he awoke Satur­day morn­ing in Honolulu to his girl­friend ask­ing him about the alert. Shocked, he turned on the tele­vi­sion look­ing for more in­for­ma­tion and called his mother in Mas­sachusetts to let her know what had hap­pened and say he loved her.

The sailor even­tu­ally called the Honolulu Po­lice De­part­ment about 10 min­utes later, and the dis­patcher told him that the alert was a mis­take. ‘Just a weird feel­ing’

“How can that hap­pen?” he said of the er­ror. “How can you al­low to that to hap­pen? There’s just an anger that goes with it. Even now, I’m shaken that it hap­pened. You go from think­ing you might die to this. It’s just a weird feel­ing.”

Be­cause of its mid-Pa­cific lo­ca­tion, Hawaii has long con­fronted the pos­si­bil­ity that it would be the tar­get of any North Korean at­tack on the United States. That worry has in­ten­si­fied in re­cent months amid es­ca­lat­ing signs of con­flict be­tween Py­ongyang and Wash­ing­ton.

The provo­ca­tions be­tween Trump and Kim have be­come in­creas­ingly per­sonal. Ear­lier this month, Trump taunted Kim in a Twit­ter post, say­ing, “Will some­one from his de­pleted and food starved regime please in­form him that I too have a Nu­clear But­ton, but it is a much big­ger & more pow­er­ful one than his, and my But­ton works!”

Less than two months ago, Hawaii took the ex­tra­or­di­nary step of re­viv­ing a statewide Cold War-style sys­tem of sirens de­signed to alert the pop­u­la­tion to a nu­clear at­tack.

The alarms re­mained quiet amid the false alert Satur­day.

Eu­gene Tan­ner / AFP / Getty Im­ages

A screen­shot taken by the pho­tog­ra­pher off his cell­phone shows mes­sages about the alerts in Hawaii. “THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” set off panic among some res­i­dents and tourists.

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