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‘Wrong button’ sends out false missile alert

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    Vern Miyagi, Maj Gen Joe Logan, Gov. David Ige and George Szegeti held a press conference to address the false ballistic missile warning.

UPDATE: 2:10 p.m.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell issued a statement that said today’s false missile warning “cannot be repeated as it caused extreme anxiety and concern for our local residents and visitors, and the country as a whole.”

“I have met with the chiefs of the city’s first responders and key members of my cabinet, and our departments acted as though the threat was real,” the statement said. “HPD confirmed the false warning three minutes after it was issued by the state Emergency Management Agency and immediately began using their bullhorns to inform the public throughout Oahu, including Waikiki, that no threat existed. It’s clear that the process to alert the public of a false missile warning needs to be improved, and we will do our best to ensure that this occurs.”

UPDATE: 1:25 p.m.

Gov. David Ige and the head of the state Emergency Management Agency apologized repeatedly this afternoon for the panic-inducing false-alarm missile alert that scared, confused and angered Hawaii’s residents and visitors.

“Today is a day our community will never forget,” Ige said, adding that he was sorry for the bogus alert. “I know first-hand how today’s false alarm affected all of us here in Hawaii, and I am sorry for the pain and confusion it caused. I, too, am extremely upset about this and am doing everything I can do to immediately improve our emergency management systems, procedures and staffing.”

Vern Miyagi, administrator of EMA, also apologized several times, saying “This is my team. We made a mistake.”

Both Ige and Miyagi vowed to learn from the “human error” so that it never happens again.

As they said earlier today, Ige and Miyagi said an EMA worker pushed “the wrong button” during testing at a shift change at EMA’s headquarters at Diamond Head.


Timeline of events

Approx. 8:05 a.m. – A routine internal test during a shift change was initiated. This was a test that involved the Emergency Alert System, the Wireless Emergency Alert, but no warning sirens.

8:07 a.m. – A warning test was triggered statewide by the State Warning Point, HI-EMA.

8:10 a.m. – State Adjutant Maj. Gen. Joe Logan, validated with the U.S. Pacific Command that there was no missile launch.

Honolulu Police Department notified of the false alarm by HI-EMA.

8:13 a.m. – State Warning Point issues a cancellation of the Civil Danger Warning Message. This would have prevented the initial alert from being rebroadcast to phones that may not have received it yet. For instance, if a phone was not on at 8:07 a.m., if someone was out of range and has since came into cell coverage (Hikers, Mariners, etc.) and/or people getting off a plane.

8:20 a.m. – HI-EMA issues public notification of cancellation via their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

8:24 a.m. – Governor Ige retweets HI-EMA’s cancellation notice.

8:30 a.m. – Governor posts cancellation notification to his Facebook page.

8:45 a.m. – After getting authorization from FEMA Integral Public Alert and Warning System, HI-EMA issued a “Civil Emergency Message” remotely.


State emergency management officials mistakenly issued a missile threat alert at about 8:07 a.m. today, sending Hawaii into an intense, short-lived panic before they started correcting their error about 20 minutes later.


Although the state emailed that the alert was a mistake at about 8:25 a.m., they did not issue a cell phone alert correction — the way many residents first learned of the bogus alert — until about 38 minutes after the initial mistake.

At about 8:34 a.m., a U.S. Pacific Command spokesman sent an email, saying “USPACOM has detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii. Earlier message was sent in error.”

Gov. David Ige said at a press conference later in the morning that the false alarm was caused by human error during a shift change when an “employee pushed the wrong button.”

He said employees were going through a process to make sure the system is working when the error occurred. He added that sirens would have also sounded if it were a real attack. He said there will be an investigation to prevent a repeat of the error.

Vern Miyagi, administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said the credibility of the system is critical to saving lives and the department will take action to prevent another error.

“This is regrettable and it won’t happen again,” Miyagi said. He said the department will look into having multiple people make operating decisions or equipment changes.

Miyagi said he also will look into why a correction wasn’t sent out right away. In addition, he said the alert should have gone out to all cellphone carriers and he will investigate why the alert wasn’t received by some cellphones.

“I can’t paint anything good on this,” Miyagi said. “It happened. We can learn from it and get better in the future.”

President Donald Trump, was in Florida this weekend, and the White House said in a statement, “The President has been briefed on the state of Hawaii’s emergency management exercise. This was purely a state exercise.”

At 9:30 a.m., Ige issued a statement saying, “While I am thankful this morning’s alert was a false alarm,” he said, “the public must have confidence in our emergency alert system. I am working to get to the bottom of this so we can prevent an error of this type in the future.”

After the alert was corrected, U.S. Sen Brian Schatz tweeted: “What happened today is totally inexcusable. The whole state was terrified. 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.”

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono tweeted: “Today’s alert was a false alarm. At a time of heightened tensions, we need to make sure all information released to the community is accurate. We need to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure it never happens again.”

“This system we have been told to rely upon failed and failed miserably today. I am deeply troubled by this misstep that could have had dire consequences. Measures must be taken to avoid further incidents that caused wholesale alarm and chaos today,” said state House of Representatives Speaker Scott K., Saiki in a statement. “Clearly, government agencies are not prepared and lack the capacity to deal with emergency situations. Apparently, the wrong button was pushed and it took over 30 minutes for a correction to be announced. Parents and children panicked during those 30 minutes. The Hawaii House of Representatives will immediately investigate what happened and there be consequences. This cannot happen again.”

At Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu during the scare, United and ANA airlines stopped checking passengers in and sent them to the lower baggage claim area, while Asiana Airlines continued to check in passengers upstairs.

The false alarm 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 center to evacuate. A local radio show from the clubhouse, next to glass windows that overlook the Pacific, kept broadcasting. 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.

Several players 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 canceling 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 had confirmed he had the same alert. Attempts to find further information on the television or radio didn’t provide further information, but then he 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.

After finding out it was a mistake, Ing tried to find some humor 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 it was, it shows that we have problems in the system that can cause major disruption and panic and anxiety among people in Hawaii.”


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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