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Confusion, relief, anger in 911 calls during Oahu missile scare

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Hawaii Emergency Management Agency officials worked at the department’s command center, Dec. 1, in Honolulu. The Honolulu Police Department is releasing a sampling of 911 calls made after a cellphone and broadcast alert mistakenly warned of a ballistic missile headed to Hawaii.

Some of those who called 911 during the confusion after a cellphone and broadcast alert mistakenly warned of a ballistic missile headed to Hawaii were relieved there was no danger, while others were angry about the scare, according to a sampling of emergency calls released by the Honolulu Police Department.

The department said there were approximately 2,000 911 calls about the missile alert on January after 8:07 a.m., when a state worker sent the message in error. The department Wednesday released a representative sample of 24 of those calls at the request of media organizations.

Some callers sounded confused and then relieved to hear there was no danger. “It was just a drill,” a dispatcher replied to one call.

“It’d be safe to say that our communications personnel were aware that it was a false alert within 10 minutes,” said department spokeswoman Michelle Yu. But she didn’t have any information about what dispatchers were instructed to tell callers about the mistake.

“Just ignore it. It was a mistake,” said one dispatcher.

During earlier calls, dispatchers instructed callers to tune in to television and radio for more information.

“I don’t own a TV, what should I do,” a woman asked during a call at 8:09 a.m. “We don’t have the answer either,” the dispatcher said. “We’re getting swamped with calls.”

Some callers were outraged. “Who in the world would do such a thing?” one caller asked at 8:46 a.m.

The employee who sent the alert has said he didn’t hear the word “exercise” spoken during a drill and thought the threat was real. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has since fired him.

“I’m very, very angry, very upset,” said a man who called 911 at 8:48 a.m. “Sorry, I understand and we have inundated calls,” the dispatcher replied, offering to send an officer to him. He declined and apologized.

A man who called at 8:26 a.m. said suggested someone deserved a beating for the mistake. “Everyone is on edge now,” he said.

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