HONOLULU — Hawaii’s elected officials are seeking changes in the state’s emergency alert system after an alert was mistakenly sent out to broadcast and social media on Saturday morning.
The message read, “Emergency Alert: Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”
It took 38 minutes for a follow-up message to go out, informing residents and visitors that there was no missile threat. During that time, many people who took the alert seriously because of ongoing tensions between North Korea and the U.S. did seek shelter or sent farewell messages to loved ones.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige said in a statement, “On Saturday, Hawaii’s residents and visitors experienced an unfortunate situation that has never happened before and will never happen again – a false alert issued by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency that a ballistic missile was on its way to the Hawaiian Islands.
“On behalf of the State of Hawaii, I deeply apologize for this false alert that created stress, anxiety and fear of a crisis in our residents and guests.
“I can personally assure each and every resident and visitor that steps have already been taken by the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to ensure that a situation of this type never happens again.
“The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is committed to protecting the people of Hawaii, and over the past year it has been taking responsible measures to prepare for the highly unlikely event of a missile attack. As a state government, we must learn from this unfortunate error and continue to prepare for any safety threat to Hawaii’s residents and visitors – whether it is a man-made threat or a natural disaster such as a hurricane or tsunami.
“In the next few days, I will continue meeting with our emergency preparedness team and personally talking with families, individuals and leaders from around our state to ensure we reach every household. We must also do what we can to demand peace and a de-escalation of tensions with North Korea.
“Again, on behalf of the State of Hawaii, I apologize for yesterday’s events and any hardship and inconvenience this created for you, your family and loved ones.”
After meetings and debriefings with leaders at the Department of Defense and Hawaii Emergency Management, Ige said, “We are doing everything we possibly can to prevent this from happening again. I encourage all of us to take stock, determine what we all can do better to be prepared in the future – as a state, county and in our own households.”
On Monday, Ige announced his appointment of Deputy Adjutant General Brig. Gen. Kenneth Hara to oversee the comprehensive review of the state’s emergency management enterprise and to immediately implement necessary changes.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), who announced via Twitter that the alert was a false alarm before the official announcement was made, said in a statement on Sunday, “The people of Hawaii lived through the unimaginable yesterday, receiving an urgent mobile alert telling them to immediately seek shelter from an incoming ballistic missile. Families all across Hawaii were terrified that they and their loved ones were about to experience the horror of nuclear war, with just minutes to live.
“This false missile alert that went out yesterday was a colossal failure that caused a nightmare. Those responsible must be held accountable. There must be state and federal investigations into what occurred, and immediate corrective action taken to ensure the people in Hawaii never have to go through anything like this again. I am working to get answers for the people of Hawaii and determine ways to address this preparedness failure through the Armed Services Committee in Congress, but we cannot stop there.
“What makes me particularly angry is that the people of Hawaii and this country live with the fear of a missile attack at all. We are paying the price for decades of failed leadership in this country. Our leaders’ failure to take seriously the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and engage in face-to-face discussions to alleviate that threat has produced the crisis we face today. I hope that leaders in Washington and the president truly understand the terror that Hawaii’s families just went through, and heed this wakeup call about the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war.
“President Trump must immediately begin direct talks with Kim Jong Un, without preconditions, to denuclearize North Korea. President Trump needs to understand that Kim Jong Un maintains a tight grip on North Korea’s nuclear weapons as a deterrent against U.S.-led regime change. North Korea has witnessed past and present U.S.-led regime change wars in countries like Libya, Iraq, Syria, and increased calls for regime change in Iran. North Korea feels it must protect itself with its own nuclear weapons for fear of ending up like (Libya’s Muammar) Gaddafi, who, after being promised the U.S. would not overthrow his regime, gave up his nuclear weapons, only to be deposed shortly thereafter by the United States.
“This is why effective negotiations to denuclearize North Korea require an end to our failed and counterproductive regime change war policy. The people of Hawaii and this country want peace. President Trump needs to end the posturing and games, and immediately begin direct negotiations with North Korea. There is no time to waste.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said on Sunday, “Yesterday, I spoke with Gov. David Ige, Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Director Vern Miyagi, Adjutant General Joe Logan, and Adm. Harry Harris (of the U.S. Pacific Command) to make sure something like this never happens again. While the alert was false, the fear and panic Hawaii residents and visitors felt was real.”
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) said, “A thorough, impartial investigation at the state and federal level, must be conducted, immediately. I will be asking my colleagues on the House Armed Services Committee to look into this matter and explore how Hawaii can improve our notification system and better work with the U.S. Pacific Command.
“We need to understand how a serious error like this happened because people react in real time to protect their families, especially in Hawaii where we live with the threat of a nuclear attack from adversaries across the Pacific. Our early warning system has to work as effectively as possible. We cannot have our residents and visitors running around in chaos for more than half an hour. The panic and fear created by this false alarm was dangerous and irresponsible.”
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who noted that some school officials herded children into a locker room and had them shelter in place, said, “The human error took almost 40 minutes to correct, and that is absolutely unacceptable. This false alarm caused real harm across the state. People were in tears, people were sheltering in place, businesses were shuttered, nobody knew what to do. But more than that, we need to be able to rely on our emergency notification system so that when we see or hear ‘this is not a test,’ we need to be able to rely on that 100 percent.”