'Terrifying': False ballistic missile threat sends Hawaii into panic

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A false ballistic missile threat alert was sent to Hawaii phones on Saturday morning, sending the state into a panic.

It took about 15 minutes for officials to confirm that the alert was a mistake, but the cause of the error was not immediately clear.

But it took emergency management officials nearly 40 minutes to send out a “false alarm” alert to cell phones using the same mechanism that sent out the emergency warning in the first place.

“It’s totally unacceptable,” said U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. “There was anxiety across the state and it was terrifying. There was a lot of unnecessary pain and anxiety. It’s important to have accountability at the state level and the emergency management level in terms of what exactly what went wrong.”

In a news release about 9:30 a.m., Gov. David Ige sent out a statement saying the cause of the false alarm was still under investigation.

“While I am thankful this morning’s alert was a false alarm, the public must have confidence in our emergency alert system,” he said. “I am working to get to the bottom of this so we can prevent an error of this type in the future.”

The governor and head of Hawaii’s Emergency Management agency subsequently told Hawaii News Now that the false alert was the result of human error — and boiled down to someone pushing the wrong button.

The false alarm comes as fears of a nuclear attack from North Korea are rising. 

In December, the state launched a campaign to educate the state on the nuclear threat — and what to do if an attack is launched. Part of that education campaign was a monthly test of the Cold War-era attack warning siren.

That siren did not sound Saturday.

The alert sent people scrambling for shelters and their cars, and online for additional news.

Cell phones were overloaded while the Hawaii Emergency Management’s website appeared to crash. As of 8:50 a.m., the website had not yet been restored online. 

About 15 minutes after the alert was sent out, authorities from the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii sent out a statement confirming that there was no missile threat. 

“USPACOM has detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii. Earlier message was sent in error,” said Com. David Benham. “State of Hawaii will send out a correction message as soon as possible.”

Though it was clearly sent in error, it is not yet known how the emergency alert message was first triggered, or by which agency the mistake was made. Residents and lawmakers across the state decried that such an incredible error was allowed to happen. 

“This enormous mistake is unacceptable. Hawaii’s civil defense system failed Hawaii’s residents this morning,” said state Sen. Will Espero. “The checks and procedures in place to confirm and re-confirm the public notification process failed Hawaii.”

“This is an unacceptable mistake and it is being investigated!” added State Sen. J. Kalani English. 

This story will be updated.

Copyright 2018 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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