Mis­taken mis­sile warn­ing trig­gers panic in Hawaii

Va­ca­tion­ers left mes­sage for fam­ily in Madi­son, send­ing love and thanks

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Milwaukee Wisconsin - An­nysa John­son Milwaukee Jour­nal Sen­tinel and USA To­day and The As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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