A push alert that warned of a ballistic missile heading straight for Hawaii and sent residents into a full-blown panic on Saturday was a mistake, state emergency officials have said.
The emergency alert, which was sent to mobile phones shortly after 8am, said in all caps: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency spokesman Richard Repoza said it was a false alarm and the agency is trying to determine what happened.
The incident prompted defence agencies including the Pentagon and the US Pacific Command to issue the same statement: that they had “detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii”.
Michael Kucharek, spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) in Colorado Springs, Colorado, said Norad and the US Northern Command are still trying to verify what happened in Hawaii – but that “Norad did not see anything that indicated any sort of threat to Hawaii”.
“From a Norad perspective and that of the US Northern Command, we are still trying to verify what happened,” he said of the false alert.
Norad is a US-Canada joint command that conducts aerospace warning, aerospace control and maritime warning to defend North America.
The US Northern Command, also based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, is tasked with air, land and sea defence of the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, Mexico and portions of the Caribbean.
The alert caused a furore on the island and across social media.
At the PGA Tour event on Oahu, Waialae Country Club was largely empty and players were still a few hours from arriving.
Staff members at the club streamed into the clubhouse and tried to seek cover in the locker room, which was filled with the players’ golf bags, but instead went into the kitchen
Justin Thomas, PGA Tour player of the year, tweeted: “To all that just received the warning along with me this morning … apparently it was a ‘mistake’?? hell of a mistake!! Haha glad to know we’ll all be safe.”
Jaime Malapit, owner of a Honolulu hair salon, texted his clients that he was cancelling their appointments and was closing his shop for the day.
He said he was still in bed when the phone started going off “like crazy”. He thought it was a tsunami warning at first.
He was still “a little freaked out” and feeling paranoid even after hearing it was a false alarm.
Richard Ing, a Honolulu lawyer, was doing a construction project at home when his wife told him about the alert.
He dug his phone out and had confirmed he had the same alert.
Attempts to find further information on the television or radio did not provide further information, but then he saw on Twitter that it was a false alarm.
Hawaii US Senator Brian Schatz tweeted the false alarm was “totally inexcusable” and was caused by human error.
“There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process,” he wrote.
Hawaii Governor David Ige was meeting with the state defence and emergency management officials to not only find out how it could occur, but to make sure it does not happen again.
He said: “The public must have confidence in our emergency alert system.”
The White House said President Donald Trump, who is in Florida, was briefed on the false alert. Spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it “was purely a state exercise”.