An emergency alert stating Hawaii was at imminent risk of a ballistic missile attack caused confusion and panic Saturday after it was sent out “based on human error” at a time of escalating nuclear tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.
Multiple users on Twitter at about 1:10 p.m. ET posted screenshots of an alert message that read: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
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However, the alert was false, according to multiple officials. President Donald Trump has been briefed on the situation, according to the White House.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said the alert was a “false alarm based on human error,” a mistake he said that was “totally inexcusable.”
Hawaii Gov. David Ige told reporters at a press conference that an employee “pushed the wrong button” during a shift change, which sent the false alert, adding that an investigation was underway. The Federal Communications Commission also pledged a “full investigation” into the false alarm.
Vern Miyagi, the administrator for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said the error was his fault but refused to say who was directly responsible. Miyagi couldn’t explain to reporters why it took almost 40 minutes for the agency to issue a second, correcting alert.
“We need to work on the response time,” Miyagi said.
Later Saturday evening, top state officials said in a statement that a preliminary investigative report will be issued next week. The statement also contained a timeline of events and officials’ responses to the incident.
Democratic Sen. Maize Hirono said: “At a time of heightened tensions, we need to make sure all information released to the community is accurate.”
Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a member of the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, told MSNBC that Hawaiian families were forced to rush to their basements and call loved ones, believing that they had just 15 minutes before an attack. Gabbard, who is not currently in Hawaii, added: “So this is stark reality that Hawaii faces now of what a potential nuclear strike on Hawaii would be where do people go.”
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have engaged in a series of personal insults as tensions on the peninsula heighten amid ongoing nuclear and ballistic missile testing by the secretive regime, and increasingly harsh U.S. rhetoric.
White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement: “The President has been briefed on the state of Hawaii’s emergency management exercise. This was purely a state exercise.”
It was not clear whether the president was aware of the situation at the time. The president was in Florida and spent the morning and early afternoon at his golf course.
According to White House pool reports, the president’s motorcade left Trump National Golf Course in West Palm Beach, Florida, at 1:38 p.m. The pool reporter said the press did not see Trump in person. Trump’s motorcade arrived at Trump’s nearby private club and residence, Mar-a-Lago, at 1:49 p.m.
Earlier, Trump’s motorcade had left Mar-a-Lago at 9:17 a.m., arriving at Trump International Golf Course at 9:26 a.m.
The FCC, which has played a central role in the debate over the wireless emergency alert system, said it will launch an investigation into what happened.
“The @FCC is launching a full investigation into the false emergency alert that was sent to residents of Hawaii,” tweeted FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
An aide to Gabbard said: “Immediately after the Congresswoman was notified of the alert, she called Hawaii Emergency Management Officials to get information and confirmed it was false alert. She was informed that this alert was sent out mistakenly. She sent out a tweet immediately to let people in Hawaii know that it was a false alarm, and there was no incoming missile.”
Sara Donchey, a news anchor for a Houston TV station, wrote on Twitter: “I’m in Honolulu, #Hawaii and my family is on the North Shore. … They were hiding in the garage. My mom and sister were crying. It was a false alarm, but betting a lot of people are shaken.”
John Hendel contributed to this report