Hawaii ballistic missile warning a false alarm

Published: 14 January 2018 Image credit: Reuters

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An emergency message was mistakenly sent on Saturday to Hawaii residents’ mobile phones warning them of an imminent ballistic missile attack.

Apparently an employee at the state emergency agency pushed the “wrong button” Hawaii’s governor said.

The mistaken alert sent shortly after 8am said: “EMERGENCY ALERT BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” sending Hawaiians into panic as they looked for shelter.

The alert also aired on television and radio.

It took approximately 38 minutes before state officials and the US military’s Pacific Command confirmed that there was no actual threat to the state.


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Two screenshots from a mobile phone displaying an alert for a ballistic missile launch and the subsequent false alarm message in Hawaii. Image credit: Reuters. 

Governor David Ige apologised for the mistake and said the alert was sent during an employee shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency.

“It was a procedure that occurs at the change of shift where they go through to make sure that the system, that it’s working. And an employee pushed the wrong button,” Governor Ige said.

“I was awakened by the alert like everyone else here in the state of Hawaii. It was unfortunate and regrettable. We will be looking at how we can improve the procedures so it doesn’t happen again.”

The agency’s administrator, Vern Miyagi said it was “human error”.

“It was an inadvertent mistake. The change of shift is about three people. That should have been caught. ... It should not have happened,” Mr Miyagi said. 


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An electronic sign reads "There is no threat" in Oahu, Hawaii, US. Image Credit: Reuters.

The alert was issued amid high international tensions over North Korea’s development of ballistic nuclear weapons.

Honolulu resident, Stacey Bow, 56, said she was awakened by the alert. When she awakened her 16-year-old daughter with the news, “she became hysterical, crying, you know, just lost it,” she said.

When asked about the question responsible Ms Bow said, “I imagine that person is clearing out their desk right now. You don’t get a do-over for something like that.”

The US federal Communications Commission will be initiating a full investigation into the incident.