Hawaii Got A False Ballistic Missile Threat Warning & People Freaked Out

by Morgan Brinlee

Residents and visitors in Hawaii received an inbound ballistic missile threat alert on their phones urging people to "seek immediate shelter" Saturday. Although the push notification claimed "this is not a drill," Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and other officials have since cleared the warning as a false alarm.

"NO missile threat to Hawaii," the state's Emergency Management Agency wrote in a tweet published minutes after the alert hit people's phones.

"This is a false alarm. There is no incoming missile to Hawaii," Gabbard wrote in a tweet of her own. The Democratic representative for Hawaii's 2nd District added she'd spoken with officials to confirm there was no incoming missile headed toward the chain of islands.

In a statement released shortly after reports of the emergency alert began to emerge, officials from the City and County of Honolulu said the alert had been issued in error. "State Warning Point has issued a Missile Alert in ERROR!" the statement read. "There is NO threat to the State of Hawaii!"

Although it remains unclear exactly what caused the reportedly false alarm alerts to be sent out, Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz has said they were the result of a human error. "There is no missile threat. It was a false alarm based on a human error," Schatz wrote in a tweet posted Saturday. "There is nothing more important to Hawaii than professionalizing and fool-proofing this process."

The senator urged for the alert process to be fixed and for accountability to be "tough and quick." "What happened today is totally inexcusable," he tweeted. "The whole state was terrified." Indeed with tensions currently running high between the United States and North Korea, the false alarm was quick to generate panic, confusion, and fear among those who received it.

"People were sheltering in the basement," Sydney Ember, a media reporter for the New York Times wrote on Twitter of her experience being on vacation at a hotel in Hawaii when the alert was sent out. "People were crying and holding each other. It was actually scary for a few minutes."

In light of increasing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, Hawaiian officials moved to reinstate its air raid or attack warning sirens beginning Dec. 1 to prepare for a possible attack. The attack warning test conducted in December was reportedly the first time the sirens had been tested since the Cold War, according to NPR.

According to NBC News, officials have estimated they would have roughly 12 or 15 minutes to warn the public about an incoming missile. That number is based on officials' estimate it would take a missile launched from North Korea 20 minutes to reach the island chain and the U.S. would likely need five minutes to determine the missile's path.

The state has also begun rolling out efforts to education residents and tourists on how to respond and prepare for a potential attack. "If an emergency or attack warning siren sounds, get inside, stay inside, and stay tuned," Hawaii Emergency Management Agency administrator Vern Miyagi said in a public service announcement released by the state agency in November. "Know where to go, what to do, and when to do it."

A spokesperson for Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency has told BuzzFeed News the push notification was "part of a drill" that had been going on. The agency later sent a follow up push notification to residents and visitors in Hawaii noting the first alert had been a "false alarm" and "there is no missile threat or danger." According to NPR, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has plans to launch a full investigation into the false ballistic missile threat.