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Hawaii False Missile Alert Explained: Worker 'Pushed Wrong Button'

By VOA News January 13, 2018

Hawaii Governor David Ige said human error was behind the false incoming-missile alert Saturday that sent Hawaiians into a panic.

Ige told CNN television that "it was a mistake made during a standard procedure at the changeover of a shift, and an employee pushed the wrong button."

The warning from Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency went out to television, radio and mobile phones, Ige said. He also said he is meeting with top defense and emergency management officials from the state to figure out how to prevent a recurrence of the mistake.

Shortly after 8 a.m. local time in the U.S. Pacific Island state, Hawaii residents posted on social media screen shots of the alert they had received on their mobile phones, reading, "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

Many Hawaiians and people vacationing on the islands reported that the alert threw them into a panic and left them unsure where to go or what to do.

Twenty minutes later, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted that there was no missile threat to the state. It also sent out an email to correct the error. But the correction was not sent out to mobile phones until 38 minutes after the mistaken alert, which has upset some officials and private citizens alike.

The White House sent out a statement by deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters: "The president has been briefed on the state of Hawaii's emergency management exercise. This was purely a state exercise."

The U.S. Navy's Pacific Command also confirmed that the alerts had been sent in error.

"USPACOM has detected no missile threat to Hawaii," Navy Commander Dave Benham said in an email. "Earlier message was sent in error. State of Hawaii will send out a correction message as soon as possible."

Ajit Pai, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, tweeted Saturday that his agency was launching a "full investigation" into the false wireless emergency alert.

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, a Hawaii Democrat, 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 nothing more important to Hawaii than professionalizing and fool-proofing this process."

Hawaii House Speaker Scott Saiki released a statement saying, "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."

Saiki's statement continued, "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 will be consequences. This cannot happen again."

U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, told CNN television Saturday that the first message had started a panic.

"You can only imagine what kicked in," Gabbard said. "This is a real threat facing Hawaii, so people got this message on their phones and they thought, 'We have 15 minutes before me and my family could be dead.' "

U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, tweeted a reassurance that the alarm had been false, adding, "At a time of heightened tensions, we need to make sure all information released to the public is accurate. We need to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure it never happens again."

She later appeared on Hawaiian television to criticize the 38-minute delay between the mistaken alert and the mobile phone message correction.

Just a few weeks ago, Hawaii reinstated its Cold War-era alarm sirens amid growing fears of nuclear aggression by North Korea.

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