Toronto family experiences panic, terror at false missile alert in Hawaii
Hawaiian officials apologized Saturday when a push alert sent by mistake warned of an incoming ballistic missile. For nearly 40 minutes, it seemed like the world was about to end in Hawaii, an island paradise already jittery about nuclear threats from North Korea.
HONOLULU—A push alert that warned of a ballistic missile heading straight for Hawaii and sent residents into a full-blown panic Saturday was issued by mistake, state emergency officials said.
The emergency alert, which was sent to cellphones just before 8:10 a.m., said in all caps, “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn’t reach people who aren’t on the social media platform. A revised alert informing of the “false alarm” didn’t reach phones until 38 minutes later, according to the time stamp on images people shared on social media.
Agency spokesperson Richard Repoza confirmed it was a false alarm and said the agency is trying to determine what happened.
Toronto couple Alison Mann and her husband, Brad Fauteux, on vacation in Hawaii with their two children, were renting a house in Kuliouou, 15 minutes outside Honolulu.
They were in their bedroom, talking about the activities they planned on doing later that day when they received the alert on their phones.
“My throat was dry. I was terrified. I was shaking,” Mann recalled, adding the alert was also being broadcast on television.
The couple gathered their children and started packing their bags with passports, water and some food.
The owner of the home came to check on them a few minutes later, telling them to stay calm and wait for further instructions.
At that point, Mann said their two children, Eloise, 11, and Lillie, 9, were in tears.
“They kept saying ‘We just want to go home. What is happening?’ ” she said, adding she and her husband could only hug them tight and whisper that everything would be OK.
But Mann was far from calm.
“Twenty minutes of my life I thought ‘We’re probably not going to survive this with our family,’ ” said Mann, who was still choked up hours later while recalling the incident. She said she and her husband thought: “We’re just going to be strong for our kids until the end.”
“There is nothing like something like that to make you reevaluate, reassess your life, your family and the things you value.”
Mann said they learned the alert was a false alarm from the homeowner. They stayed inside the house for a couple of hours, messaging friends and family at home in Toronto to let them know they were OK.
What exactly happened wasn’t clear to anybody — House Speaker Scott Saiki said someone pushed the wrong button, and the White House said the episode was “purely a state exercise.” The incident prompted defence agencies including the Pentagon and the U.S. Pacific Command to issue the same statement, that they had “detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii.”
Hawaii officials apologized repeatedly and said the alert was sent when someone hit the wrong button during a shift change. They vowed to ensure it would never happen again.
“We made a mistake,” said Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi.
He and Hawaii Gov. David Ige vowed changes.
Vern Miyagi, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator, left, and Hawaii Gov. David Ige apologized Saturday at a press conference following a push alert that warned of an incoming ballistic missile to Hawaii and sent residents into a full-blown panic. The alert was a mistake, state officials said. (George F. Lee)
“I am sorry for the pain and confusion it caused,” Ige said. “I, too, am extremely upset about this and am doing everything I can do to immediately improve our emergency management systems, procedures and staffing.”
But for nearly 40 minutes, it seemed like the world was about to end in Hawaii, an island paradise already jittery over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea.
On the H-3, a major highway north of Honolulu, vehicles sat empty after drivers left them to run to a nearby tunnel after the alert showed up, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. People flocked to shelters, crowding highways in scenes of terror and helplessness.
“I was running through all the scenarios in my head, but there was nowhere to go, nowhere to pull over to,” said Mike Staskow, a retired military captain.
Cherese Carlson, in Honolulu for a class and away from her children, said she called to make sure they were inside after getting the alert.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is it. Something bad’s about to happen and I could die,’ ” she said.
Michael Kucharek, spokesperson for the North American Aerospace Defence (sic) Command in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said NORAD and the U.S. 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.”
NORAD is a U.S.-Canada joint command that conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning to defend North America.
The White House said U.S. President Donald Trump, who is in Florida, was briefed on the false alert. White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters said it “was purely a state exercise.”
Saiki, the House speaker, said the system Hawaii residents have been told to rely on failed miserably. He also took emergency management officials to task for taking 30 minutes to issue a correction, prolonging panic.
“Clearly, government agencies are not prepared and lack the capacity to deal with emergency situations,” he said in a statement.
This smartphone screen capture shows a false incoming ballistic missile emergency alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (Caleb Jones)
At Konawaena High School on the Island of Hawaii, where a high school wrestling championship was taking place, school officials moved people to the centre (sic) of the gym as they tried to figure out how to shelter someone from a nuclear missile.
Workers at a golf club huddled in a kitchen fearing the worst. Professional golfer Colt Knost, staying at Waikiki Beach during the PGA Tour’s Sony Open, said “everyone was panicking” in the lobby of his hotel.
“Everyone was running around like, ‘What do we do?’ ” he said.
Several players at the PGA event on Oahu took to Twitter.
“Just woke up here in Hawaii to this lovely text. Somebody can verify this?” tweeted Emiliano Grillo of Argentina.
Justin Thomas, the PGA Tour player of the year, tweeted, “To all that just received the warning along with me this morning … apparently it was a ‘mistake’?? hell of a mistake!! Haha glad to know we’ll all be safe.”
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.
Richard Ing, a Honolulu attorney, was doing a construction project at home when his wife told him about the alert.
He dug his phone out and confirmed he had the same alert. When television and radio didn’t provide further information, he finally saw on Twitter that it was a false alarm. While he was trying to confirm, his wife and children were preparing to evacuate in case they needed to move to safer ground.
Richard Ing, a Honolulu attorney, joked it was probably someone’s last day on the job Saturday when Hawaii emergency management officials mistakenly sent an alert that a ballistic missile was inbound to Hawaii. His wife told him about the alert while he was doing a construction project at his Honolulu home. (Mark Thiessen)
After finding out it was a mistake, Ing tried to find some humour in the situation.
“I thought to myself, it must be someone’s last day at work or someone got extremely upset at a superior and basically did this as a practical joke,’ he said. “But I think it’s a very serious problem if it wasn’t that, or even (sic) it was, it shows that we have problems in the system that can cause major disruption and panic and anxiety among people in Hawaii.”
Others were outraged that such an alert could go out in error.
Hawaii U.S. Sen. 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.
With files from Bryann Aguilar and the New York Times
This story has been corrected to show that the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted that there was no threat about 10 minutes after false missile alert.
(Publisher’s comment: At 85 years of age, I must confess that this is one of the most bone head mistakes that I have ever heard that government has made in my entire life. How stupid. And now they say that they are going to make sure that they have two from now on to before this alert button is pushed. You mean that had not been though of before? Oh boy! I would like to know how much that government employee’s salary was that planned that fiasco and how many pages of instructions it entailed. Can you imagine the lawsuits that will be filed by those that were frightened out of their wits, and who knows how many heart attacks occurred? But far more important than these things are the spiritual ramifications that this should teach us. Should not all of us ask ourselves the question, what if we really knew that we had but thirty-eight minutes before we are going to be leaving planet earth. What would we do with those last few minutes on earth? Most people die as they live. No doubt there were some who got what is called, fox-hole religion, and got “right with the Lord”, and as soon as they found out that it was a false alarm went back to their sinful ways. There were probably some that sincerely turned to the Lord in true repentance and will never be the same again as far as “walking the straight and narrow way.” But regardless, we all need to remember that the scripture warns us all, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:”
Spring Unregistered Baptist Fellowship Meeting
March 19 – 20, 2018
Victory Baptist Church
Johnny Jarriel, Host Pastor