Smartphones across Hawaii were sent an alert Saturday morning: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
For nearly an hour, residents were in a panic as television stations broke from programming to warn of an impending missile threat. Thankfully, it turned out to be a false alarm.
“There is no missile threat,” Lt. Commander Joe Nawrocki, a spokesperson for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, told BuzzFeed News. “We’re trying to figure out where this came from or how this started. There is absolutely no incoming ballistic missile threat to Hawaii right now.”
Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency also confirmed that it was a false alarm, saying it was incorrectly sent as part of a drill; 40 minutes after the original phone alert, another push notification told residents that it was false.
— Michelle Broder Van Dyke (@MBVD) January 13, 2018
Richard Rapoza, an EMA public information officer, said the agency was still trying to find the source of the error but doesn’t believe it was hacked. However, when BuzzFeed asked why the notification read, “This is not a drill,” when according to EMA it was, Rapoza said, “We don’t know why the alert went out as part of the test. It’s a regular test we do and normally the alert does not go out as part of that test. But this time it did so we’re trying to find out what went wrong and resolve that.”
The warning was especially frightening considering the tensions President Donald Trump has fueled with North Korean President Kim Jong-un, both of whom frequently bait each other on Twitter with talks of nuclear war and missile launches. In December, Hawaii reactivated its nuclear warning system, which had previously been offline since the mid-90s, as the island chain sits in a vulnerable position between North Korea and the mainland U.S.
“People got this message on their phones and they thought 15 minutes, ‘We’ve got 15 minutes before me and my family could be dead,'” Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard told CNN. “The reality is that every American needs to understand that if you had gone through what the people of Hawaii just went through, what my family and so many families in Hawaii just went through, you would be angry just like I am.” ‘