Panic af­ter alert of in­bound mis­sile is mis­tak­enly sent

San Francisco Chronicle - - NATION - By Adam Nagour­ney, David E. Sanger and Jo­hanna Barr Adam Nagour­ney, David E. Sanger and Jo­hanna Barr are New York Times writ­ers.

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.”

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