A screen capture from a Twitter account showing a missile warning for Hawaii on Saturday. Photo: @valeriebeyers/via REUTERS

Ballistic missile warning sent in error by Hawaii authorities

By Jolyn Rosa

An emergency alert was sent mistakenly on Saturday to Hawaii's residents warning of an imminent ballistic missile attack when an employee at the state emergency management agency pushed the "wrong button," Hawaii's governor said.

State officials and the U.S. military's Pacific Command confirmed that there was no actual threat to the state. But for more than a half hour, while the agency struggled to retract the warning, panicked Hawaiians scrambled to find shelter.

The mistaken alert stated: "EMERGENCY ALERT BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL." The alert, sent to mobile phones and aired on television and radio shortly after 8 a.m., was issued amid high international tensions over North Korea's development of ballistic nuclear weapons.

Governor David Ige told a news conference he was "angry and disappointed" over the incident, apologized for it and said the state would take steps to ensure it nevers happen again.

"What happened today was totally unacceptable," the Democratic governor said.

Ige said the alert was sent during a employee shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, and that the state had no automated process to get out the word that it was a false alarm. Vern Miyagi, the agency's administrator, called it "human error."

"An employee pushed the wrong button," Ige said.

Stacey Bow, 56, of Honolulu, said she received the emergency alert on her smart phone. She awakened her 16-year-old daughter with the news. "She became hysterical, crying, you know, just lost it," she said.

Ige said the emergency management agency after the incident ordered a change in its procedures requiring two employees, not just one, to send out such an alert in the future. He said such shift changes occur three times a day every day of the year.

Miyagi, who said Hawaii would have only 12 to 13 minutes of warning in an actual attack, declined to say what action would be taken against the employee. Miyagi said the agency routinely tests its emergency alert system and that employee thought he was conducting a test, not realizing he had transmitted the warning with a two-step process on a computer screen until receiving it on his own cellphone minutes later.

"There is a screen that says, 'Are you sure you want to do this?'" Miyagi said, adding that the employee "feels terrible about it."

Miyagi, who took responsibility for the incident, said the mistake "should have been caught."

"This will not happen again," he added.

Bow said of the person responsible for issuing the alert, "I imagine that person is clearing out their desk right now. You don't get a do-over for something like that."

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission, which has jurisdiction over the emergency alert system, announced it was initiating a full investigation. Last week, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said the agency would vote at its January meeting to enhance the effectiveness of wireless emergency alerts, which have been in place since 2012.

Hawaii, a chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean, has a population of about 1.4 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and is home to Pacific Command, the Navy's Pacific Fleet and other elements of the American military.

Hawaii's economy depends heavily on tourism. At the news conference with Ige and Miyagi, a Hawaii tourism official expressed concern about the impact the incident might have on attracting visitors to the state.

In November, Hawaii said it would resume monthly statewide testing of Cold War-era nuclear attack warning sirens for the first time in at least a quarter of a century, in preparation for a possible missile strike from North Korea.

The governor said some sirens went off on Saturday after the false alarm.

North Korean President Kim Jong-un has threatened to unleash his country's growing missile weapon capability against the U.S. territory of Guam or U.S. states, prompting President Donald Trump to threaten tough action against Pyongyang, including"fire and fury."

Trump was wrapping up a round of golf at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida when the incident was unfolding. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said Trump was briefed by aides and that the incident involved "purely a state exercise."

Michael Sterling, 56, of Los Angeles, was in Waikiki when he received the alert.

"I was thinking what could we do? There is nothing we can do with a missile," Sterling said.

School administrator Tamara Kong, 43, of Honolulu, said,"Today, the whole state of Hawaii experienced a collective moment of panic and relief."

The incident could add to the Trump administration's sense of urgency about North Korea's nuclear threat. Some hawks within the administration believe the United States cannot live with a perpetual North Korean threat and that U.S. military force could be necessary. The incident could also give fresh impetus to those advocating a peaceful resolution.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2018.

©2018 GPlusMedia Inc.

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If NK really wanted to attack the US they'd simply put their nuke into a shipping container, have it loaded onto a Chinese cargo ship and set it off in LA harbor.

This missile stuff, including this silly warning is just a sales tactic for multi-billion dollar missile defence "systems" which are nothing more than tin cans stapled together with thousand dollar screws.

-1 ( +8 / -9 )

This is how a nuclear war with North Korea could start. Trump needs to be removed from office because he is incapable of dialing down the rhetoric. He goads North Korea and others, and he cannot control himself. He is not fit to be in the White House, and he could easily launch a missile in a fit of anger or insanity. I can't believe I have to write this, but we need someone who is sane, intelligent, educated, and emotionally in-control in the White House. And we need it now.

-4 ( +9 / -13 )

The "false alarm" notification went out on twitter within about 20 minutes, but over 38 minutes to cancel it on the cell phone alert system. We should not be relying on twitter for national security information.  

Someone has some explaining to do.

10 ( +12 / -2 )

Japan has smaller system in each prefecture and The latest that notify large area in several large region. Unlike this Hawaiian installation, systems in Japan were installed in underground cave and people don't touch. Remember articles on JT? When missile on the air is detected, guided cooome out and it direct missile into nearest sea. Hokkaidoo was last place missile fell into sea.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

So that probably sucked.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Perhaps the annoyance and anger over this "fake alarm" is counterbalanced by the relief that it was not a real one. Still, the employee who "pushed the wrong button" should be transferred to different job. To be fair I know Japan has had these kind of problems as well.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Maybe Hhawaii has different system. New large area protection system in Japan is called AEGIS ASHOREPAC3. Maybe USA need to visit Japan how systems are installed?

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Japan's does not have Aegis Ashore, they want it but it will take years to come online.

They ordered 2 but they 1st have to build buildings in sites to house it aka fixed locations.

Now why did the button not have a flip cover? Or how about a system check button that does everything except send the actual message.

Bad Design.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

So now if a real attack warning comes it will be ignored.....nice work.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

sheesh. I tend to double-check things that are kinda important.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Tex: Another Astute observation with no basis in reality. Yee-Haw in Hee-Haw! Fire your six-shooters in the air, Texas is here. Don't mess with Texas.

Can the US just give Texas back to Mexico?

4 ( +5 / -1 )

I was ripped off by a couple of condo rental shysters in HI I sent they address to Marshal Kim.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

N K has been a sliding why it's latest missile fell down in sea near Hokkaido. I am suspicious Japan secretly established Nuclear technology related industry. AEGIS ASHOREPAC3 has been working well against NK missile shooting near Japan. Seems USA has inferior missile dettectioon system.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Brings back memories of when I was a child at school.

"Duck and Cover"-

4 ( +4 / -0 )

A state-level screw up. Hawaii is run by democrats. 

Sounds about right.

-11 ( +0 / -11 )

The FCC is an institution. They're in charge of making the alert system's rules and regulations - obviously they didn't make it fool-proof enough. Always have to expect humans to make errors - hope for the best, but plan for the worst

They have to design it so that no one human error can gum up the system. Like the launching of nukes need more than 1 person to do it

(Now, if this later turns out to be errors made by more than 1 human............)

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Thank God Trump was away on his golf cart at the time. This is how wars start.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

This missile stuff, including this silly warning is just a sales tactic for multi-billion dollar missile defence "systems" which are nothing more than tin cans stapled together with thousand dollar screws.

Tell that to Putin - Russia makes such missile defense systems too

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Am I the only person who finds it slightly incredible that all this as caused by "someone pushing the wrong button"? How can an emergency broadcast system not have backups and multiple redundancies to prevent false alarms like this? Is this the first time anyone actually ever thought of such a possibility?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

 How can an emergency broadcast system not have backups and multiple redundancies to prevent false alarms like this?

Don't know, but earthquake alerts have gone out by mistake when testing the system here, as well.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Seems USA has inferior missile dettectioon system.


Actually there was no missile launched at all. Nothing to detect.

When I started getting calls this morning from family members who were out and about and had just received the warning on their cell phones, my first thought was that this was a technical error. There was no confirmation from civil defence and no warning sirens were sounded. Hawaii civil defence has been including nuclear attack warnings in their monthly system checks and siren tests for a while now as well as a concerted public education and awareness program. With South Korea, Japan and the US keeping a close eye on that part of the world, as soon as there was even an indication of a launch the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency would go into high gear and it wouldn't rely on twitter and verizon to get the word out. It just didn't add up.

None the less, a lot of people got pretty rattled. Right after the warnings went out on the cell phones my wife and son were hitting up Wally's World to stock up on chicken feed and they called me to report that the store was being evacuated. People just left their shopping carts in the aisles and started running out.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

They can play it up slightly by saying that at least they know the system works and message gets out.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Well it's definitely better than the other way around. A missile actually does come in, and the guy pushes the wrong button so nobody knows about it until it's too late.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

It's just a guy with a keyboard whos got one job and failed. Don't overthink this.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Damn my bad! Sorry wrong button!!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

At least the President doesn't press the wrong buttons. Image the bad press covfefe if he did.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Hawaii must have spent a lot in this system. There are Aegis PAC 3 are installed in each prefecture in Japan. The system to cover large area, right now Hokkaidō only.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Some corporation made good money in this fake warning system.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Japan's missile detection system detect missile frying in the sky, Japan explained when Tottori prefecture people complained after they crawled under desks.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Imagine if this happened in a different state e.g. Maryland, District of Columbia? It would have been WWIII. Need to fire incompetent government employees.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Hawaii has a cellphone alerting system. The detection of missiles is the responsibility of the United States Strategic Command and Northern Command. And it was the military that was the first to declare this a false alarm. My first thought that what happened at the state level was a hack or psyops, but who knows ? Maybe they really don't have passwords, codes or multiple prompts that only a few top level administrators can access.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese system, one section sense missile in sky. Another section shoot up wrapper. Then the wrapper reaches missile, together drop into nearest sea. After action over,,,,, third part notice game over. NK haven't got slightest idea why its missile couldn't go across Japan. After missile vanish, Japan revealed Guam it is OK and then CNN announce.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Hawaii must have spent about $350 million for the system.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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