Mis­sile alert causes panic

Peo­ple flock to shel­ters as hu­man er­ror lights up phones with false alarm

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page -

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. 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.”

“What hap­pened to­day was to­tally un­ac­cept­able,” said Gov. David Ige. “Many in our com­mu­nity were deeply af­fected by this. I am sorry for that pain and con­fu­sion that any­one might have ex­pe­ri­enced.”

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 shift-change 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.”

But the ex­pla­na­tion of 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 Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago es­tate in Florida.

Rapoza said a new pro­ce­dure was put in place hours af­ter the mis­take re­quir­ing twostep au­then­ti­ca­tion be­fore any such alert is sent out.

“Our cred­i­bil­ity is vi­tal, and we are go­ing to do what­ever we can to make sure this never hap­pens again,” he said.

Height­ened anx­i­ety

The episode un­der­scored the height­ened level of anx­i­ety, es­pe­cially in the the western United States, over mount­ing ten­sions with North Korea and its nu­clear arse­nal and the men­ac­ing ex­changes be­tween Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and North Korean 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,” he said. “We were more clear-headed than we ex­pected and didn’t panic as much.”

Matt LoPresti, a state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, told CNN that he and his fam­ily also headed for a bath­room. “I was sit­ting in the bath­tub with my chil­dren, say­ing our prayers,” he said.

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, 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 false-alarm mes­sage across the same cell­phone net­works that had spread the warn­ing.

“What hap­pened to­day is to­tally in­ex­cus­able,” U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, a Demo­crat, 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.”

Es­ca­lat­ing con­flict

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.

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. Res­i­dents have heard the sirens dur­ing sys­tem tests in re­cent months, but the alarms re­mained quiet amid the false alert Satur­day.

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

Tricia Padilla, 39, of Kauai, her hus­band and their two chil­dren, aged 10 and 12, took shel­ter 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.”

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.

Said 10-year-old Evan Padilla: “I just felt like any breath could be my last. I just thought it was go­ing to land and it was all go­ing to be gone.”

Jen­nifer Kelle­her/The As­so­ci­ated Press

“Some­one clicked the wrong thing on the com­puter,” Hawaii Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency spokesman Richard Rapoza said of the alert, which went out shortly af­ter 8 a.m.

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