Mistaken missile warning triggers panic in Hawaii
Vacationers left message for family in Madison, sending love and thanks
It was the final morning of a dream vacation on Hawaii’s Big Island.
Michelle Dunphy was packing her suitcase when a shrieking alert blared from her cellphone shortly after 8 a.m. She looked at the screen and froze.
“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter,” it said. “This is not a drill.”
“It was terrifying,” said Dunphy, whose husband, Jacob, had gone out to return some of their rental equipment. Within minutes, the mother of two was on the phone, leaving a message for her in-laws, who were watching their children back in Madison.
“I said, ‘I don’t know if this is anything or not, but we just got this alert. And I just wanted to say we love you guys, thank you for taking care of the children, and hopefully we’ll see you tomorrow,’ “Dunphy said in a telephone interview, hours after the alert was found to have been a mistake.
“I wasn’t crying, but my heart was racing,” she said.
The push alert, which she would learn more than 30 minutes later, was issued by mistake, state emergency officials said Saturday, but not before sending residents and vacationers into a fullblown panic.
One video on social media showed parents lowering their children into storm drains for safety.
“We called our kids to say goodbye,” said Samantha Willow of Portland, Ore., a retiree in her 70s, who was relaxing with her husband, Steve, at their Kauai timeshare when they saw the alert.
She said her kids were distraught by the prospect of losing their parents, but, “this is the way we’d want to go,” she said. “Together.”
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted that there was no threat about 10 minutes after the alert. But a revised push alert stating there was no threat did not go out until 8:45 a.m. local time.
Agency spokesman Richard Repoza confirmed it was a false alarm and the agency is trying to determine what happened.
The incident prompted defense agencies including the Pentagon and the U.S. Pacific Command to issue the same statement, that they had “detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii.”
Michael Kucharek, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colo., said NORAD and the U.S. Northern Command are still trying to verify what happened in Hawaii — but that “NORAD did not see anything that indicated any sort of threat to Hawaii.”
NORAD is a U.S.Canada joint command that conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning to defend North America.
The White House said President Donald Trump, who is in Florida, was briefed on the false alert. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it “was purely a state exercise.”
It’s not clear what caused the error. Efforts to reach Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency were unsuccessful. The Federal Communications Commission is “launching a full investigation of what happened,” according to spokesman Brian Hart.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige told CNN that someone had “pressed the wrong button,” which sent out the alert, during a shift change at an emergency management facility.
He said he would be meeting with the Defense Department and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The public, he said, “must have confidence” in the emergency alert system.
The incident came amid heightened tensions between Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong-un over its nuclear capabilities.
Hawaii had recently reinstated its Cold War-era nuclear warning sirens amid growing fears of an attack by North Korea, according to The Washington Post.
Hawaii U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat, called the mistake “totally inexcusable.”
“There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process,” he wrote.
At the PGA Tour’s Sony Open on Oahu,
“I said, ‘I don’t know if this is anything or not, but we just got this alert. And I just wanted to say we love you guys, thank you for taking care of the children, and hopefully we’ll see you tomorrow.’ “Michelle Dunphy, leaving a message, moments after the alert, for her in-laws, who were watching their children back in Madison
the Waialae Country Club was largely empty and players were still a few hours from arriving when the alert blasted. Tournament staff urged the media center to evacuate. Club staff members tried to seek cover in the locker room, but it was filled with golfers’ bags, so they headed to the kitchen.
Airbnb host Ted Daul, who lives and rents out property in Kauai, told USA TODAY that he got the alert while “making some Saturday morning blueberry pancakes” with his wife. He then dubbed the breakfast “end of the world pancakes,” he said, because he thought it would be his final meal.
“My wife and I, we actually just got into bed and told each other how much we loved each other,” Daul said. “We just had this moment and told everyone how much we loved and cared about them.”
About a half hour later, he read a message from U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who tweeted an all-caps all-clear even before a new alert was sent saying the first message was false.
The Dunphys planned to fly out Saturday night.
But for a few tense minutes, she said, “our vacation was great.”
“Hawaii is wonderful,” she said. “It was a little rough of an ending for our last day. But we’re heading to a whale watching right now. So hopefully, that will bring our spirits up before we leave town.”
Michelle and Jacob Dunphy of Madison were on the Big Island in Hawaii on Saturday when a false alert warning of a ballistic missile strike went out, sending the islands into a full-blown panic.
This smartphone screen capture shows a false incoming ballistic missile emergency alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system on Saturday.