An emergency alert mistakenly sent to phones across Hawaii sent the state into panic over a possible ballistic missile attack, testing its emergency response protocols and resources amid rising tensions over North Korea’s nuclear programme.
The alert, sent early on Saturday morning, said: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”
About 40 minutes later the alert was recalled as state officials said the message had been sent in error and there was no threat. Hawaii governor David Ige said the original message had been sent mistakenly during a shift change, when a wrong button was pressed.
“I know first hand that what happening today was completely unacceptable. I too am very angry and disappointed this happened,” he told a press briefing. “The public must have confidence in our emergency alert system.”
Holly Bui, a US citizen visiting Honolulu from Minnesota, said she was in her hotel room in Waikiki when she received the alert and had assumed it was fake, given there were no sirens outside or information on the news.
“I called down to concierge and they said to get in my room, hide in the bathroom and get away from any windows,” she said. “That’s when I realised it was more real than I thought. I could hear people shutting their doors and running into their rooms.”
The false alarm has prompted criticism of the state’s preparedness for an attack following a year of missile tests by Pyongyang and tensions between Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, and US president Donald Trump.
Following the alert, it was found that not all phone carriers had sent the alert and only some sirens had sounded.
“What happened today is totally inexcusable,” said Brian Schatz, the senior US senator from Hawaii. “The whole state was terrified. There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.”
Shortly after the alert was recalled, the White House said the president had been briefed on Hawaii’s emergency management exercise, reiterating that it “was purely a state exercise”.
The Federal Communications Commission also said it was aware of the false alarm and would be launching a full investigation into how it happened.
In the hours after the alarm, Ms Bui said many of the island’s businesses had remained closed and people were still shaken by the incident.
“This is a reality and they’re probably going to have to adjust to it,” she said. “I think people just didn’t have a plan and were just following the same drills they would for a tsunami. ”