A unfounded Alarm "Missile Threat" Warning Got Sent To Everyone In Hawaii


HONOLULU — A message warning Hawaii residents to seek shelter due to the imminent threat of a ballistic missile on Saturday morning was a unfounded alarm accidentally sent by state emergency workers, officials said.

“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK instant SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” read the alert to people’s phones, which immediately caused a panic among residents and on social media.

The message also blared across local television stations.

However, a spokesperson for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, told BuzzFeed News the incident was a unfounded alarm.

“There is no missile threat,” Lt. Cmdr. Joe Nawrocki 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.”

“My phone’s been blowing up,” he added.

Nawrocki referred requests for information to Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency, where a representative also told BuzzFeed News the message was a unfounded alarm.

“We’re in a process of sending another message to cancel the initial message. It was portion of a drill that was going on,” the spokesperson said.

The agency later tweeted, “NO missile threat to Hawaii.”

US Pacific Command spokesperson Cmdr. David Benham later told reporters in a statement, “USPACOM has detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii. Earlier message was sent in error.”

Some 40 minutes after the original message was sent, a moment alert was pushed to people’s phones, declaring a unfounded alarm.

Hawaii has been on edge in recent months amid an escalating war of words between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Late final year, Hawaii officials restarted statewide testing of Cold War–era sirens meant to warn of an impending nuclear attack.

The incorrect alert was sent as portion of a drill by the state’s Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for emergency alerts and is a subset of the Department of Defense.

In the initial aftermath of the alert, officials scrambled to identify how it had occurred. Richard Rapoza, an EMA public information officer, said the agency was still “trying to find where the error occurred” but believed it was a technical issue, and not a result of hacking.

“We don’t beget any real clear answers,” he told BuzzFeed News. “We’re working on a number of hypotheses.”

Trump was at his Florida golf course when the initial alert hit phones in Hawaii around 8:09 a.m. Hawaii time. Trump left approximately 29 minutes after it was sent, and got to his Mar-a-Lago resort at approximately 8:49 a.m. Hawaii time.

White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters later issued a statement, saying, “The President has been briefed on the state of Hawaii’s emergency management exercise. This was purely a state exercise.”

Regular staff at the state’s EMA operations center, located at its Diamond Head Crater headquarters, were running a drill when the alert was sent. Rapoza said testing the broadcast system — sending an emergency alert — is not portion of a standard drill.

BuzzFeed News asked why the message included the words “this is not a drill,” whether in fact the message was sent as portion of a drill. “That alert is not supposed to travel out as portion of the drill,” said Rapoza.

“We don’t know why the alert went out as portion of the test. It’s a regular test we effect and normally the alert does not travel out as portion of that test. But this time it did so we’re trying to find out what went wrong and resolve that,” said Rapoza.

The agency currently believes it was a technical or coding issue that may beget caused the incorrect message.

“Right now it appears to be a technical issue. But we can’t be certain. We’re working right now on the assumption it was a technical issue,” he said, noting the agency expected to beget more information on what happened later Saturday.

But he did clarify that there was no suspicion and “no evidence of any kind” of government systems being hacked.

“We beget absolutely no indication it was any kind of hacking; that is not something we believe,” he said.

Gov. David Ige told reporters an emergency management official accidentally pushed a wrong button.

“It was a procedure that occurs at the change of shift where they travel through to create certain that the system is working, and an employee pushed the wrong button,” he said.

Hawaii EMA Administrator Vern T. Miyagi said he took responsibility for the incident.

“We’ll win action to create certain this won’t happen again,” Miyagi said.

Hawaii EMA said later Saturday that the governor had suspended outright future drills until the agency had completed a full analysis of the event, and that EMA had already instituted a two-person activation rule for both tests and actual missile launch notifications in response to the error.

The Federal Communications Commission is investigating the alert, Chair Ajit Pai said in a tweet. “The @FCC is launching a full investigation into the unfounded emergency alert that was sent to residents of Hawaii,” Pai posted.

The state’s two Democratic senators both called for an investigation into Saturday’s mishap.

“What happened nowadays is totally inexcusable,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz. “The whole state was terrified. There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.”

Schatz said the unfounded alarm was a result of human error.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, the state’s junior senator, wrote: “At a time of heightened tensions, we need to create certain outright information released to the community is accurate. We need to catch to the bottom of what happened and create certain it never happens again.”

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was among the first to inform residents the message was a unfounded alarm, tweeting out information.

Gabbard told CNN the message was sent to every single person in Hawaii.

“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,” she said.

Gabbard, a Democrat, blamed Trump for what she said was a failure to win the threat of North Korea seriously.

“The reality is that every American needs to understand that whether 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 exasperated just like I am,” she said.

Michelle Broder Van Dyke reported from Honolulu. David Mack and Amber Jamieson reported from contemporary York City. Additional reporting by Julia Reinstein and Hayes Brown.

This is a developing sage. Check back for updates or follow BuzzFeed News on Twitter.

Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.

Contact Michelle Broder Van Dyke at michelle@buzzfeed.com.

David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in contemporary York.

Contact David Mack at david.mack@buzzfeed.com.

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