Ballistics Missile Scare in Hawaiʻi

Reactions and Uncertainties of Event

By Kara Dung

Posted on Tuesday, February 6, 2018 at 10:39 PM PDT

via Hawai'i State Rep. Tulso Gabbard's Twitter

via Hawai'i State Rep. Tulso Gabbard's Twitter

What if there were a missile headed toward you? What would you do? How would you react? Would you know what to do? Saturday, January 13, 2018 started off as an average Saturday morning for the people of Hawaiʻi.  At 8:07 am phones across the state had a blaring alarm with a message reading “Emergency Alert: BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” This message immediately set off a statewide panic, with Hawaii News Now sharing stories of people running for shelter and fearing for their lives. 38 minutes later at 8:45 am another alert went off on cell phones with a message that read, “Emergency Alert: There is no missile threat to the State of Hawaiʻi. Repeat. False Alarm.”

 via The Hawai'i Emergency Management System

 via The Hawai'i Emergency Management System

What were the reactions of the people of Hawai’i? Cheryl Dung of the island of Oʻahu in Honolulu was out of the house when this happened. She said “Oh, my God! The kids are sleeping and will not know! They need to close windows! What the hell are we supposed to do? Where should we go?” She called her daughter Kristin, and asked her to turn on the TV and radio to hear updates. She also said that people around her were. “Scared. Texting and calling loved ones. People were getting information from Facebook and Twitter. She was frustrated that there were no updates or information from legitimate sources. 38 minutes later, Kristin finally texted her mother that Hawaiʻi State Representative Tulsi Gabbard Tweeted that the alert was a false alarm.

Officials finally announced that there was no threat. Governor David Ige, the Emergency Management Agency, the Mayor and every State and Federal Official Tweeted, Facebooked, Instagramed and informed citizens that it was a false alarm.  Once everyone had a chance to catch their breath, it left the the public with many questions. How and why did this happen?  Who pressed the wrong button? What would we do if this were to actually happen?

This fear was real, especially with all of the tension between the U.S. and North Korea. It seems that no one knew what to do.  The State of Hawaiʻi has in the past informed its citizens about earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis, but never a missile attack.

Governor David Ige released a statement later that day: “I know first-hand how today’s false alarm affected all of us here in Hawaiʻi, and I am sorry for the pain and confusion it caused. I, too, am extremely upset about this and am doing everything I can do to immediately improve our emergency management systems, procedures and staffing.”  

The local evening news Hawaiʻi News Now on January 13th said that the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HiEMA) sent the alert and the person responsible was under investigation. The information from HiEMA said that If a missile  where to actually be heading toward Hawaiʻi, that residents should seek underground shelter, close all windows and doors as tightly as possible and be prepared with water and food for 14 days.

Since this has happened there has been new information that has come to light. It took 17 minutes for Ige to Tweet out that it was a false alarm according to the Honolulu Star Advertiser. Governor Ige said “I have to confess that I didn’t know my Twitter account logons and the passwords, so certainly that’s one of the changes I made.”  This was a contributing factor in the time it took to get the word out that it was a false alarm. As the testing of the missile alert message has been put on hold by the Emergency Management Agency and the worker who sent out the false alarm that triggered the false missile alert has now resigned, reported on January 31st by the Honolulu Star Advertiser. The testing of the missile alert message has been put on hold by the Emergency Management Agency. The worker who sent out the false alarm that triggered the false missile alert (thinking it was real) has now resigned, as reported by the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported on January 21th that U.S. Hawaiʻi State Senator Brian Schatz introduced a bill to take the missile alert responsibility away from the State. Schatz argues that the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security are responsible to notify Hawai’i citizens in the event that there is a missile attack instead of the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency.

The governor said that Hawaiʻi will never again send out a false alert warning of an inbound ballistic missile. In the Governor’s words: “Let me be clear, false notifications - and waiting for what felt like an eternity - will not happen again.  You have my promise on this,” he stated in an address to the State legislature.

A report from the Honolulu Star Advertiser on January 30th said that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are looking into the false missile event to determine how to prevent a future false alert and to determine broader changes that may need to happen to prevent future problems.

 This was a single human error, and now it is required that two people have to sign off before sending out a statewide alert like the one sent out on January 13, 2018.  Federal government agents continue to investigate, however, many people, including Cheryl Dung and Kristin Dung, feel this should have never happened in the first place, and that it caused undue anxiety for them and their families. I can testify to that, because Cheryl Dung and Kristin Dung are my mother and sister, and I was very anxious for them, and hope that there will never be a “real” alert for my family and friends in Hawaiʻi.