A frightening false alarm warning of a missile strike scared Hawaiians on Saturday morning as cell phones across the state advised that the alert was “not a drill.”
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER,” the terrifying 8:07 a.m. text read in all caps.
The message inundated phones, television sets and radio throughout the state — where residents have been on edge in recent months amid growing tensions between the Trump administration and North Korea.
Social media erupted as a flurry of people seeking assurances of safety or confirmation of their worst fears shared the communication.
Hawaii’s Director of Emergency Management, Maj. Gen. Arthur Logan, confirmed with the U.S. Pacific Command that the warning was a false alarm within five minutes of the employee’s error, according to a timeline events provided by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. Honolulu Police Department was alerted of the error next, the document reads.
The state issued its first round of cancellations to social media first, tweeting, “NO missile threat to Hawaii” first in an attempt to calm nerves.
Officials were unable to retract the alert on its warning systems until a harrowing 38 minutes after the initial warning, after receiving federal authorization from the FEMA Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. The corrected alert sent at 8:45 p.m. advised that “there is no missile threat or danger to the state of Hawaii.”
Until that retraction was sent, traffic came to a standstill in the idyllic state. Shop owners scrambled to shutter stores and panicked tourists were stuck searching for answers on their phones when the early-morning warning came through, residents and visitors said.
Video of a small girl being helped into a storm drain to take shelter was shared on social media.
Patty Lee, a 30-year-old freelance writer from Brooklyn, was enjoying the last day of her honeymoon with her husband, Calvin Lam, when the scare occurred.
The young couple, hoping to spend their time in paradise “disconnecting and not reading the news,” were en route to the famed Leonard’s Bakery in Waikiki after a hike when they received the alert.
“We just weren’t sure what to do,” Lee told The News. “We tried to Google shelters and find somewhere to go, but there wasn’t any information or plan.”
The terrified pair found the lack of official information disturbing and got the all clear through social media.
“There was a sense of disbelief, everybody was walking around shaking their heads,” Lee said of the aftermath.
Golfer John Peterson, three shots out of the lead in the third round of the Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club, was at his hotel ahead of the conclusion of the tournament.
“Under mattresses in the bathtub with my wife, baby and in-laws. Please lord let this bomb threat not be real,” Peterson tweeted.
Hawaii state Rep. Matt LoPresti also sought shelter in his bathroom.
“I was sitting in the bathtub with my children, saying our prayers,” he told CNN.
The White House said President Trump, spending the weekend in Florida, was briefed on the false alert. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it “was purely a state exercise.”
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator Vern Miyagi said the error occured when a longtime employee pushed the wrong button during a shift change.
The employee, who was not immediately identified, mistakenly initiated the alert and confirmed it during a second prompt.
“You gotta know this guy feels bad, right? I mean, he’s not doing this on purpose,” Miyagi told reporters, when asked if the employee would face any concequences. “It was a mistake on his part. He feels terrible about it and it won’t happen again.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) called for the alert system to be made foolproof.
“It was a false alarm based on a human error. There is nothing more important to Hawaii than professionalizing and foolproofing this process,” he said.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige confirmed that an employee “pushed the wrong button” during a shift change, which sent the false alert, adding that an investigation was underway. The Federal Communications Commission also pledged a “full investigation.”
The governor said Saturday afternoon he has suspended all future drills pending a review of the incident.
The state will now require two people to verify an alert, before sending, and a cancellation prompt that will work within seconds — instead of a staggering half hour — of another error should it happen again.
Others on the island said the current political climate and other warnings accentuated the fear.
The governor, describing himself as one of the thousands confused by the morning chaos, used his remarks to urge peace and de-escalation talks with North Korea.
“Today is a day most of us will never forget,” Ige said in a statement. “A terrifying day when our worst nightmares appeared to become a reality. A day where we frantically grabbed what we could, tried to figure out how and where to shelter and protect ourselves and our ohana, said our “I love yous.”
Last month, Hawaii tested nuclear attack warning sirens for the first time since the end of the Cold War.
North Korea said that it has recently tested a ballistic missile capable of reaching the American mainland. It has also threatened to bomb the waters near Guam, a U.S. territory.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump have engaged in an escalating war of words that included a combative comparison of their “nuclear buttons” recently.
“The nuclear button is always on the desk of my office,” Kim said in a New Year’s speech. “They should accurately be aware that this is not a threat but a reality.”
Trump responded via Twitter, saying, “I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
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With Nicole Hensley
Source : http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/false-alarm-ballistic-missile-prompts-panic-hawaii-article-1.37549811524