Missile threat text alert sent in error after employee pushed wrong button

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. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

UPDATE: At 2:30 p.m., city officials will hold a press conference at the city Emergency Operations Center to update the public.

On Saturday morning, emergency officials mistakenly sent out a text alert that read:

“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

Emergency officials later confirmed there was no threat to Hawaii.

Click here to view the timeline of events.


Gov. David Ige met Saturday morning with top officials of the State Department of Defense and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to determine what caused the false alarm and prevent it from happening again.

“This should not have happened. We are investigating the sequence of events that occurred. An error was made in emergency management which allowed this false alarm to be sent,” he said. “It was a procedure that occurs at the change of shift where they go through to make sure that the system is working and an employee pushed the wrong button.”

Employees undergo a shift change three times a day.

Vern T. Miyagi, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator, said he was not there when it happened, but the mistake was “regrettable.”

“There’s a checklist that is in place so that should have been followed, and I’m going to find out why it wasn’t or what happened,” he said. “Again, let me assure you that I’m going to look through this, investigate, and this will not happen again.”

Officials say despite the error, they want the public to remain vigilant and treat any future warnings seriously.

“Bottom line is if there’s an alert like this that occurs again, take the appropriate action. Get inside, stay inside, and if there’s an all clear given, that’s how you’ll be notified,” said Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara, Deputy Adjutant, Hawaii National Guard, “so we just urge the public to keep with that three things.”

U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard says she plans to get to the bottom of what happened.

“What was on my mind was the well-being of the people of Hawaii, and my family’s obviously in Hawaii, and I know families all across the state, over a million people getting this text message alert, wondering immediately, where do I go? Where can I take my family to protect them? Where can I find shelter that’s going to protect me from a nuclear bomb?” she said.

“This is stark reality, sadly, that the people of Hawaii are facing today with this threat from North Korea, and the sad reality that these shelters don’t exist, so the answers to these questions that people were frantically thinking and asking and wondering this morning, they have not been answered,” Gabbard continued.

While the message was sent across the state, not everyone received a text alert. Miyagi says that is also something officials will look into.

“I think it depends on the carrier,” he said, “what is the carrier or the company that sponsors that, but we’ll review that too, because all of them should have gotten this.”

Courtney Harrington, Emergency Alert System director, said:

What happens the system is set in two places. One is the Emergency Management at the city, the other one is in the Birkhimer Tunnel on the state side of civil defense. There are messages that in there that can be sent out. In most cases, they are pre-written to save time.

“What are the checks and balances to keep from putting something like this out? If there’s none, there should be. If they are, why didn’t they stop it? It’s a matter of moving forward now and finding out what happened.

“The system is a good system. Technically, it’s a great system. This is exactly what it’s designed to do. The weak point of anything of course, is when somebody pushes a button, that they push the wrong one. When you sit in front of your computer and you want to delete a file, you get a big notice that pops up on the screen that says ‘Are you sure you want to do this?’ Is there something like that in the system? And we need to check.”

The Department of Transportation said the error did not cause any widespread impacts at airports and harbors. Some planes may have been delayed, but not by much.



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