‘This is not a drill’: Accidental ballistic missile alert causes panic in Hawaii

A false alarm that warned of a ballistic missile headed for Hawaii sent the islands into a panic Saturday, with people abandoning cars in a highway and preparing to flee their homes until officials said the cellphone alert was a mistake.

In a conciliatory news conference later in the day, Hawaii officials apologized for the mistake and vowed to ensure it will never happen again.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi said the error happened when someone hit the wrong button.

“We made a mistake,” said Miyagi.

Hawaiian Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard took a screen shot of an alert that went to her cellphone at 8:07 a.m. HST, and shared it on Twitter, adding that it was a false alarm. (Tulsi Gabbard/Twitter)

For nearly 40 minutes, it seemed like the world was about to end in Hawaii, an island paradise already jittery over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea.

The emergency alert, which was sent to cellphones statewide just before 8:10 a.m., said: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn’t reach people who aren’t on the social media platform. A revised alert informing of the “false alarm” didn’t reach cellphones until 38 minutes later, according to the time stamp on images people shared on social media.

The incident prompted defence agencies including the Pentagon and the U.S. Pacific Command to issue the same statement, that they had “detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii.”

The White House said President Donald Trump, at his private club in Florida, was briefed on the false alert. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it “was purely a state exercise.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki said the system Hawaii residents have been told to rely on failed miserably. He also took emergency management officials to task for taking 30 minutes to issue a correction,…

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