Panic after alert of inbound missile is mistakenly sent
An emergency alert mistakenly warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack was dispatched to cell phones across Hawaii early Saturday, setting off panic in a state that was already anxious over escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea.
Officials recalled the alert, sent out by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, about 40 minutes after it was issued in a scramble of confusion over why it happened. Outrage was immediately expressed by state officials and among people who live in what is normally a famously tranquil part of the Pacific.
Officials said the alert was the result of human error and not the work of hackers or a foreign government. The mistake occurred during a shiftchange drill that takes place three times a day at the emergency command post, according to Richard Rapoza, a spokesman for the agency.
“Someone clicked the wrong thing on the computer,” he said. “It was erroneous.”
At no time, officials said, was there any indication that a nuclear attack had been launched against the United States.
“The public must have confidence in our emergency alert system,” Gov. David Ige said. “I am working to get to the bottom of this so we can prevent an error of this type in the future.”
The alert went out at about 8:10 a.m., lighting up phones of people still in bed or up for an early surf. “’BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” it read.
People flocked to shelters, crowding highways in scenes of terror and helplessness. “I was running through all the scenarios in my head, but there was nowhere to go, nowhere to pull over to,” said Mike Staskow, a retired military captain.
Around the Ko’a Kea Hotel at Poipu Beach on the island of Kauai, guests looked quizzically around, wondering aloud if the alert was real. Many made their way to the main lobby, where they were invited by hotel staff to shelter in the basement parking garage.
Word spread quickly after Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii tweeted at 8:19 a.m. that the alert was a false alarm.
“What happened today is totally inexcusable,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “There needs to be tough and quick accountability.”