False ballistic missile alert rattles Hawaii

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The warning read, “Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound To Hawaii. Seek Immediate Shelter. This Is Not A Drill.”

A flurry of tweets, often with screenshots of the message, appeared to pop up on cellphones shortly after 8 a.m. local time. The message read, “Ballistic Missile Threat Inbound To Hawaii. Seek Immediate Shelter. This Is Not A Drill.”

Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill. pic.twitter.com/tlJYNwCr1A

The message sent at least a few rushing for shelters as people pondered whether a missile was heading toward the island.Thirty-eight minutes later, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency public information officer Richard Rapoza said the alert was sent in error.

“What happened was … during shift changes (with) outgoing and incoming staff, somebody selected the wrong item on a computer. It was user error,” Rapoza said.

Though administrator Vern Miyagi said at an EMA press conference that an unnamed longtime employee made the error, Rapoza told USA TODAY, “We’re not pointing fingers at an individual. What we need to do now is address the problem.”

Hawaii Gov. David Ige vowed to “get to the bottom of this” and said he’d be meeting with the Defense Department and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency so that it doesn’t happen again. 

“We are sorry that this false alarm has occurred. We are committed to ensure that it never happens again,” Ige said in a press conference. “We have already taken action to minimize that possibility, by suspending tests, and already implemented a process to ensure that at least two people are involved in (the alert-sending) process.”

Emily Clagett, a Maryland resident who was vacationing in Hawaii, was driving with her husband when she heard an emergency message on the radio to pull over and take cover before a missile hits.

“People started running,” she said. “We saw this Catholic church and we’re Catholic, so we went into the chapel to pray,” and join several others doing the same thing. Clagett, who was thinking of her four kids back home, couldn’t stop crying.

“It was the real deal,” she said. “Finally we got that alert saying it’s a false alarm.”

Airbnb host Ted Daul, who lives and rents out property on Kauai, told USA TODAY he got the alert this morning while “making some Saturday morning blueberry pancakes” with his wife. He then dubbed the breakfast “end of the world pancakes,” he said, because he thought it would be his final meal.

“My wife and I, we actually just got into bed and told each other how much we loved each other,” Daul said. “We just had this moment and told everyone how much we loved and cared about them.”

About a half hour later, he read a message from Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who tweeted an all-caps all-clear even before a new alert was sent saying the first message was false.

HAWAII – THIS IS A FALSE ALARM. THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE. THE ALERT WAS SENT OUT INADVERENTLY. I HAVE SPOKEN TO HAWAII OFFICIALS AND CONFIRMED THERE IS NO THREAT. pic.twitter.com/hwRGct2aTa

Daul said that because Hawaii started sounding nuclear war sirens at the end of last year, “It’s an unfortunate reality, (but) it didn’t feel so much out of the blue this morning,” he said.

After that, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency gave its own all clear: “NO missile threat to Hawaii.”

NO missile threat to Hawaii.

That message came out before a new phone alert because, as Rapoza says, EMA “did not have the process in place to send out an all clear,” and had to get approval by the Federal Emergency Management Agency before sending another wireless emergency message.

“We did cancel the message, but (that process) doesn’t recall any messages,” he says.

The U.S. Department of Defense also put out its own message, saying the agency “detected no missile threat to Hawaii. Earlier message was sent in error.”

U.S. Pacific Command has detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii. Earlier message was sent in error. State of Hawaii will send out a correction message as soon possible. pic.twitter.com/hqidbV0BWn

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii wrote, “There is no missile threat. It was a false alarm based on a human error.” He sent a second tweet using capitalization to emphasize the “FALSE ALARM.” He said, “There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.”

There is no missile threat. It was a false alarm based on a human error. There is nothing more important to Hawai‘i than professionalizing and fool-proofing this process.

AGAIN FALSE ALARM. What happened today is totally inexcusable. The whole state was terrified. There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.

It’s not clear what caused the error. The Federal Communications Commission is “launching a full investigation of what happened,” according to spokesperson Brian Hart.

The FCC is aware of the situation in Hawaii and launching a full investigation into what happened.

White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said President Trump had been briefed on the alert.

 “This was purely a state exercise,” she said.

JUST IN: Hawaii Governor David Ige tells CNN that someone “pushed the wrong button” during an employee shift change, sending out the false alert about an incoming ballistic missile https://t.co/FD1vl6fCzhpic.twitter.com/2zhXLApLcr

Roughly a half hour later, another emergency notification was sent out, this time saying the first was a false alarm.

“There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm,” the message read.

Finally pic.twitter.com/pEJb3pePhq

The unsettling notification comes after months of aggressive rhetoric from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who has threatened to strike the United States.

Hawaii is about 4,600 miles from North Korea’s capital Pyongyang. In November, Hawaii began testing warning sirens to prepare for a possible nuclear attack.