WASHINGTON – Hawaii sent out an emergency alert notification Saturday stating a “ballistic missile threat inbound,” prompting panic throughout the state.
It took 38 minutes for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to alert residents the message was a false alarm. The agency admitted it had no procedures in place to rescind such an alert, sent to every cell phone on the islands.
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” the emergency alert read.
While the message caused concern on social media, state officials did respond on Twitter saying: “NO missile threat to Hawaii.”
Hawaii Gov. David Ige told CNN that human error caused the alert to go out.
“It was a mistake made during a standard procedure at the change-over of a shift, and an employee pushed the wrong button,” he said.
The warning went out to television and radio as well as cell phones, Ige added.
Ige also tweeted that he is meeting with top defense and emergency management officials from the state “to determine what caused this morning’s false alarm and to prevent it from happening again.”
Commander David Benham, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Command confirmed in a statement that there is no threat: “USPACOM has detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii,” the statement read. “Earlier message was sent in error. State of Hawaii will send out a correction message as soon as possible.”
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White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters referred all questions about the alert to the Department of Defense.
President Trump was briefed on the incident in person by Deputy National Security Adviser Ricky Waddell and later by White House chief of staff John Kelly, in addition to speaking to national security adviser H.R. McMaster, a White House official said.
Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono echoed that point in her own tweet.
“At a time of heightened tensions, we need to make sure all information released to community is accurate,” she wrote. “We need to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure it never happens again.”
The FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center, Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency are monitoring the situation.
The U.S. military maintains a complex and integrated network of sensors and detection capabilities in the Pacific to track ballistic missile activity, a network that has been — of necessity — improved in recent years.
Real-world missile launches are detected immediately by satellites that discern the infrared signature right off the launching pad.
Hawaii’s emergency management system does not have this capability on its own and would rely on the military’s verification and analysis of the threat, he said.
On Saturday evening, former Defense Secretary William Perry warned it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that a nuclear war could start by accident if proper safeguards aren’t taken.
“The risk of accidental nuclear war is not hypothetical — accidents have happened in the past, and humans will err again,” tweeted Perry, who served under former President Bill Clinton. “When the lives of millions are at risk, we must do more than just hope that mistakes won’t happen.”