Japanese public broadcaster NHK sparked mass-panic on Tuesday when it falsely alerted residents to a North Korean missile launch. The gaffe comes days after a similar event terrified the U.S. state of Hawaii.
“North Korea appears to have launched a missile… The government urges people to take shelter inside buildings or underground,” the alert read.
All mobile users with the NHK application received the broadcast at 6:55 PM local time. A short time later, another message went out correcting the alert. NHK later issued an on-air apology to viewers for the mishap.
Officials did not elaborate on the incident or provide details as to why or how it happened except to say that the gaffe had occurred due to a mistake in their alert system.
Only a few days earlier, on Saturday, Hawaiians received a similar alert notification warning of an impending missile threat, leaving little time for escape.
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” the message read.
While both instances terrified residents, Japan’s mishap was resolved swiftly — only five minutes passed before Japanese broadcasters corrected the false alert. Hawaiians, by contrast, were left in suspense for half an hour before officials took to Twitter and other social media platforms to clarify that the threat was false.
“HAWAII – THIS IS A FALSE ALARM. THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE TO HAWAII. I HAVE CONFIRMED WITH OFFICIALS THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE,” Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D) wrote at the time.
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) tweeted condemnation of the slip-up on Saturday, vowing that the incident would not repeat itself.
“Today’s alert was a false alarm,” Hirono wrote. “At a time of heightened tensions, we need to make sure all information released to the community is accurate. We need to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure it never happens again.”
Anxiety over a potential missile launch has grown in recent months as North Korea’s active nuclear efforts continue to draw the ire of President Trump. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has repeatedly threatened the United States, singling out both Hawaii and the U.S. territory of Guam as potential targets. Trump, in return, has referred to his North Korean counterpart as “Rocket Man” and vowed to strike North Korea should the need arise.
While the North Korean threat to the United States is limited by geography, the same can’t be said for its neighbors. Both South Korea and Japan have expressed repeated concern about Kim Jong-un’s regime as the chances of a nuclear threat have grown. Neither country would have much time to prepare in the event of an incoming missile and the impact would likely be devastating — something many people in Japan briefly grappled with on Tuesday.
The panic caused by both false alerts sparked global criticism over the accuracy of nuclear alert systems. The topic will likely be discussed this week as officials from 20 countries meet in Vancouver, Canada to address North Korea’s nuclear and missile efforts.
The Winter Olympics are set to begin in Pyeongchang, South Korea next month.