Missile alert in Hawai’i causes panic

Emma Stoltzfus—Staff Writer

On Jan. 13, phones around Hawai’i received alerts: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO Hawai’i.” A day later, a similar incident occurred in Japan.

At 8:07am, Hawai’i Emergency Management Agency (HEMA) inadvertently sent out a text and automatic broadcast across TV and radio stations that urged the public to “SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER,” stating that “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

The next day, Japanese broadcasting company NHK sent out a text broadcast to their subscribers detailing a possible missile launch and a government order to evacuate and find shelter.

Japan’s NHK had a correction text message sent out in minutes, in contrast to Hawai’i’s 38-minute turn-around time to retract the alert.

Both messages were a result of human error.

In Hawai’i’s case, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was the first to start spreading word via twitter at 8:19am, informing the public that the alert was a mistake—twelve minutes after the text.

A minute later HEMA’s official account posted a succinct tweet: “NO missile threat to Hawai’i.” The message was in stark contrast to a post from the day before wishing the islands a happy “Aloha Friday” over images of orchids.

The Cold-War-era attack warning sirens that have been tested monthly alongside normal tsunami sirens since November did not go off.

The message to Hawai’i was sent inadvertently by a state employee during a standard drill. The intended internal system’s drill was instead sent out to the entire state. The only difference between the links sending the practice and real message is with the word “DRILL” in front of the link. The employee then had to confirm his choice after clicking the actual alert.

The event has prompted Hawai’i officials to rethink their warning system. Two days after the incident, Governor David Ige signed an executive order appointing Brigadier General Kenneth Hara to manage the revamp of Hawai’i’s emergency response system. According to a statement from HEMA, plans are already in place requiring two individuals to test or send out alert messages, and the setup of a cancellation message that can be sent out in seconds.

An employee at the broadcasting organization NHK was responsible for the incident in Japan. An online alert warning of the likely launch of a missile was accidentally sent out, but a second message was sent minutes later apologizing and informing the recipients of the mistake.

Amid high tensions over the last few months, both incidents have highlighted the tenseness and worry surrounding the threat of North Korea and their nuclear capabilities. North Korea launched two missiles in August and September of last year that flew over Japanese borders and into the Pacific.

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