‘Seek immediate shelter’: Hawaiians panic, say last goodbyes after false missile alert

An erroneous message lit up phones across Hawaii with a disturbing alert urging people to “seek immediate shelter.”
An electronic sign reads "There is no threat" in Oahu, Hawaii, U.S., after a false emergency alert that said a ballistic missile was headed for Hawaii, in this January 13, 2018 photo obtained from social media.(Instagram/@sighpoutshrug/via REUTERS)
An electronic sign reads "There is no threat" in Oahu, Hawaii, U.S., after a false emergency alert that said a ballistic missile was headed for Hawaii, in this January 13, 2018 photo obtained from social media.(Instagram/@sighpoutshrug/via REUTERS)
Updated on Jan 14, 2018 01:22 PM IST
Copy Link
Hindustan Times, Washington | ByYashwant Raj

Panic struck the state of Hawaii, one of the closest US destinations to North Korea, Saturday morning as an emergency alert of an incoming missile flashed across cellphones in the archipelago and lasted 38 minutes despite assurances from officials and agencies that it was a false alarm.

A combination photograph shows screenshots from a cell phone displaying an alert for a ballistic missile launch and the subsequent false alarm message in Hawaii January 13, 2018. (REUTERS)
A combination photograph shows screenshots from a cell phone displaying an alert for a ballistic missile launch and the subsequent false alarm message in Hawaii January 13, 2018. (REUTERS)

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (EMA) scrambled to end the panic with a second message that it was a false alarm.

As social media ignited with screenshots of the cell phone emergency warning, Hawaii’s EMA confirmed that there was no missile threat.

Tulsi Gabbard, the Democratic Congresswoman from the state and co-chair of the India Caucus, also tweeted on similar lines at 8:20 am local time.

Residents and tourists in the state, which has in view of the threat from North Korea reactivated cold-war era nuclear attack sirens, went into panic, ran for shelter and, some of them, had began texting out their last goodbyes to their loved one.

President Donald Trump, who was on a golf course in Florida at the time, was briefed about it, the White House said in a statement, and went on to add it “was purely a state exercise”. He was also informed immediately it was a mistake.

But it remained unclear how the mistake came about. Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, which runs these emergency services with private wireless providers and state agencies, had ordered an inquiry.

The state was in full emergency mode, people and businesses, and let up only after the final all-clear that went out at 8:45 am.

The false alarm sent social media into an overdrive with screenshots of the cell phone emergency warning.

This photo illustration screenshot taken by the photographer of his cell phone shows messages of emergency alerts on January 13, 2018 of Honolulu, Hawaii. (AFP)
This photo illustration screenshot taken by the photographer of his cell phone shows messages of emergency alerts on January 13, 2018 of Honolulu, Hawaii. (AFP)

But lives had been turned upside down for those few minutes.

“I literally sent out ‘I love you’ texts to as many family members as I could, Noah Tom, a Honolulu resident said to The Washington Post. “It was all kind of surreal at that point.”

Celeste Russell, anther Honolulu resident told a local news publication Honolulu Star-Advertiser, “There was a red light and people were beeping their horns for people to go through it, instead of stopping, because obviously, they wanted to get home themselves. So it was bad.”

United Airlines cleared its lobby at Honolulu airport and sent passengers downstairs to the baggage claim area, according to the advertiser, and workers at Pearl Harbour were scrambling to get off the base.

There is a three-step for sending out such alerts. The process is triggered by a message communicated through a special line by the US Pacific Command. The Hawaii EMA, which receives it, uses a checklist of protocols to verify it and then an alert is sent out manually.

The Saturday alert was sent by mistake but it might have tapped right into worries and concerns already felt in the state because of the intensifying rhetoric between the US and North Korea, with Pyongyang successfully testing a ballistic missile that US experts have acknowledged can reach any part of the American mainland.

Gabbard accused Trump of “posturing” and not taking nuclear threats from North Korea seriously and urged to begin direct talks with Pyongyang without preconditions.

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close Story
QUICKREADS

Less time to read?

Try Quickreads

  • A man clears debris from a driveway near a bus inundated by floodwaters on a residential street, following heavy rains and severe flooding in the McGraths Hill suburb of Sydney, on July 6, 2022. 

    Homes of 85,000 people at risk, but rain eases around Sydney

    Floodwaters had inundated or were threatening the homes of 85,000 people around Sydney on Wednesday as rivers started to recede and the heavy rains tracked north of Australia's largest city. Emergency responders knocked on doors overnight in the towns of Singleton and Muswellbrook, in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney, to order residents to evacuate, Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke said. “For many, it has been a sleepless night,” Cooke said.

  • Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, foreground and Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak take part in a cabinet meeting.

    ‘Will have to drag him kicking and screaming': UK PM Boris Johnson on the brink

    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will face questions in parliament followed by a grilling by senior lawmakers on Wednesday, with his premiership on the brink after a slew of resignations from ministers saying he was not fit to govern. A growing number of lawmakers in his ruling Conservative Party have said the game is up for Johnson.

  • Rishi Sunak reacts as Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street, in London.

    ‘Cannot continue like this’: What Rishi Sunak said as he quit Johnson cabinet

    British chancellor of the exchequer Rishi Sunak and health secretary Sajid Javid quit the government on Tuesday amid mounting pressure on Prime Minister Boris Johnson for appointing a tarnished member of the Parliament to a key government position.

  • Robert E Crimo was arrested hours after Illinois was gripped by shock and horror. 

    US July 4 parade shooting suspect charged with seven murder counts

    A 21-year-old man who allegedly opened fire on a July 4 parade in a wealthy Chicago suburb while disguised in women's clothing was charged with seven counts of first-degree murder on Tuesday, prosecutors said. Robert Crimo, 21, was arrested on Monday, several hours after the attack on a festive Independence Day crowd. More than 35 people were injured.

  • UN, US urge probe into deadly Uzbekistan unrest

    UN, US urge probe into deadly Uzbekistan unrest

    UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet and the United States both called Tuesday for a swift investigation into the deadly clashes at mass protests in Uzbekistan. Authorities in Uzbekistan said Monday that 18 people had died in clashes in the autonomous Karakalpakstan region on Friday after demonstrations erupted over planned constitutional changes affecting the territory's status. The United States separately voiced concern and urged all sides to seek a "peaceful resolution" to the tensions.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Wednesday, July 06, 2022