Residents in Hawaii were left panic-stricken on Saturday morning when they received emergency text messages warning them, incorrectly, of an incoming ballistic missile.
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII,” the text message read in block capitals. “SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” The message was also broadcast on TV, in terrifying fashion. Hawaii State Representative Matt LoPresti told CNN that, during the alert, he was sitting in the bathtub with his children praying.
The moment the EAS alert interrupted Hawaiian TV is terrifying pic.twitter.com/pVwpCBeRgD
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) January 13, 2018
But the warning turned out to be completely false, and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted that there was no missile threat to the state.
NO missile threat to Hawaii.
— Hawaii EMA (@Hawaii_EMA) January 13, 2018
According to David Ige, the state’s governor, the mistake happened during a shift change when an employee “pressed the wrong button”. EMA officials reportedly meant the alert as a drill, but it was mislabeled.
NORAD spokesman Lt. Commander Joe Nawroo said that they were working to establish the details about such a serious command and control error could be made. “There is absolutely no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii right now,” he said. “My phone’s being blowing up.” Another NORAD official later added that the mistake was “possibly a hack” or a “very sick joke”.
Hawaii officials were understandably furious with the mix-up. “What happened today is totally inexcusable,” tweeted Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI). “The whole state was terrified. There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.” The FCC said that they’d be launching a full investigation.
In October, the University of Hawaii sent its students and faculty an email about what actions to undertake in case of a nuclear incident, instructing students when and where to shelter in place of an attack. Authorities in the state have been preparing for a worse-case attack scenario since July, and residents would have around 15 minutes to seek shelter in case of a nuclear missile attack from North Korea.