Hawaii missile alert: False alarm warns residents of "ballistic missile threat"

HONOLULU -- Hawaii emergency management officials said an alert sent to mobile phones and televisions warning of an incoming ballistic missile to Hawaii on Saturday was a false alarm. The emergency alert sent to cellphones said, "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."

Vern Miyagi, the administrator for the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA), said in a press conference around noon Hawaiian time that his team was responsible for the error. According to Miyagi, the error happened during a shift change and at 8:07 a.m., "the wrong button was pushed" during the internal drill. 

According to Miyagi, by 8:10, officials started the recall and cancellation process -- but there is no way to stop messages that have already been sent out. At 8:13 a.m., the state warning point issued a cancellation to prevent any more messages from going out. By 8:24 a.m., Gov. David Ige retweeted a message of the cancellation message.

AP

An image of the false  emergency alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018.

CALEB JONES / AP

Although Ige said no one had authorized the use of the sirens, there were sirens. 

Miyagi and Ige said they will be implementing changes to make sure it won't be a single individual and it will be at least two people sending out the alert. But Miyagi said there is a screen that says "are you sure you want to do this?" 

"It's a human error we are going to fix," Miyagi said, but he warned his team has spent the past couple of months preparing for the worst-case scenario in case of nuclear weapons.

"The threat is there," Miyagi said. "If this goes out, there will be a 12-14 minute warning for an actual event." 

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spokesman Richard Repoza said it's a false alarm and that the agency is trying to determine what happened. 

The incident prompted defense 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."

The alert broadcasted on television said: "If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a nearby building or lie on the floor. We will announce when the threat has ended."

It took Hawaii emergency officials 38 minutes for residents to receive an alert notifying them the previous alert was a false alarm. 

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, joined CBSN on Saturday and said the false alarm may have been caused by "human error." Schatz said Hawaiians are happy to be safe and "everything got canceled in a very short period of time."

"We're taking a deep breath knowing that it was a false alarm," Schatz said. "What I am hearing, and I don't know for sure, is that it was human error. Regardless of whether it was human error, a glitch or a hack, whatever it was, it is totally unacceptable."

Schatz said a local school suffered terrible anxiety from the alert. He said officials shepherd children into a locker room and had them shelter in place. "The state's emergency management system needs to do much, much better, and there needs to be better accountability."

Schatz urged residents to "hug your family, jump in the ocean and then on Tuesday ask your government what they're going to do to make sure this never happens again."

The false alarm comes amid heightened tensions with North Korea as the rogue nation continues to test ballistic missiles. 

President Trump was briefed on the false alarm Saturday, a White House official told CBS News. The official said the alarm was "purely a state exercise."

The false alarmed stirred panic across the island on Saturday. 

Resident Malika Dudley told KGMB she was with her husband and children when she received the alert. "That was one of the scariest moments of my life, when something like this happens, you can't wait to find out if its a false alarm," Dudley said.

Jamie Malapit, owner of a Honolulu hair salon, canceled appointments with his clients and closed his shop for the day. He told The Associated Press he was still in bed when he received the alert on his phone.

"I woke up and saw missile warning and thought 'no way.' I thought 'No, this is not happening today,'" Malapit said. "I went from panic to semi panic and 'Are we sure?'"