A push alert that warned of a ballistic missile heading straight for Hawaii and sent residents into a full-blown panic on Saturday was issued by mistake, state emergency officials said.
The emergency alert, which was sent to cellphones just before 8:10 am, said in all caps, “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted that there was threat about 10 minutes later. But a revised push alert stating there was no threat went out sometime after that.
Agency spokesman Richard Repoza confirmed it was a false alarm and the agency is trying to determine what happened.
The incident prompted defence agencies including the Pentagon and the US Pacific Command to issue the same statement, that they had “detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii.”
Michael Kucharek, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said NORAD and the US Northern Command are still trying to verify what happened in Hawaii – but that “NORAD did not see anything that indicated any sort of threat to Hawaii.”
HAWAII – THIS IS A FALSE ALARM. THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE TO HAWAII. I HAVE CONFIRMED WITH OFFICIALS THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE. pic.twitter.com/DxfTXIDOQs
— Tulsi Gabbard (@TulsiGabbard) January 13, 2018Advertisement
NORAD is a US-Canada joint command that conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning to defend North America.
The White House said President Donald Trump, who is in Florida, was briefed on the false alert. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it “was purely a state exercise.”
The alert caused a tizzy on the island and across social media.
At the PGA Tour’s Sony Open on Oahu, Waialae Country Club was largely empty and players were still a few hours from arriving when the alert showed up. The tournament staff urged the media centre to evacuate.
Staff members at the club streamed into the clubhouse and tried to seek cover in the locker room, which was filled with the players’ golf bags, but instead went into the kitchen.
In Honolulu, Jaime Malapit, owner of a hair salon, texted his clients that he was cancelling their appointments and was closing his shop for the day. He said he was still in bed when the phone started going off “like crazy.” He thought it was a tsunami warning at first.
“I woke up and saw a missile warning and thought ‘no way.’ I thought ‘No, this is not happening today,”‘ Malapit said.
He was still “a little freaked out” and feeling paranoid even after hearing it was a false alarm.
Others were outraged that such an alert could go out in error.
Hawaii US Senator Brian Schatz tweeted the false alarm was “totally inexcusable” and was caused by human error.
“There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process,” he wrote.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai also took to social media to announce the panel would launch an investigation.