HONOLULU — A message warning Hawaii residents to seek shelter due to the imminent threat of a ballistic missile on Saturday morning was a false alarm accidentally sent by state emergency workers, officials said.
"BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE 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.
But the incident was a false alarm.
"There is no missile threat," Lt. Cmdr. Joe Nawrocki a spokesperson for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, or NORAD, 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."
Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency, where a representative also told BuzzFeed News the message was an error, sent a message to correct the false alarm.
Some 40 minutes after the original message was sent, a second alert was pushed to people's phones, declaring a false alarm.
The state's emergency management agency later tweeted, "NO missile threat to Hawaii."
US Pacific Command spokesperson Cmdr. David Benham later confirmed to reporters in a statement, "USPACOM has detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii. Earlier message was sent in error."
The incorrect alert was sent as part 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, told BuzzFeed News on Monday that the false alarm appears to have occurred as a "matter of human error."
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 part of a standard drill.
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 go through to make sure that the system is working, and an employee pushed the wrong button," he said.
The worker who sent the false alarm has been reassigned within Hawaii's emergency operations center where he does not have access to the warning system while the incident is under investigation, Rapoza told BuzzFeed News in a statement on Monday.
While the agency said the incident was a result of human error, it will also consider whether other factors played a role. The agency expects to have a report by the end of the week, he said.
Hawaii EMA Administrator Vern T. Miyagi said he took responsibility for the incident.
"We'll take action to make sure this won't happen again," Miyagi said.
Hawaii EMA said later Saturday that the governor had suspended all 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 false emergency alert that was sent to residents of Hawaii," Pai posted.
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 last year, Hawaii officials restarted statewide testing of Cold War–era sirens meant to warn of an impending nuclear attack.
Trump was at his Florida golf course when the initial alert hit phones in Hawaii around 8:09 a.m. Hawaii time. Trump left about 29 minutes after it was sent, and got to his Mar-a-Lago resort at about 8:49 a.m. Hawaii time. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a statement the President had been briefed about state's exercise.
"What happened today is totally inexcusable," tweeted Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz. "The whole state was terrified. There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process."
Sen. Mazie Hirono, the state's junior senator, wrote: "At a time of heightened tensions, we need to make sure all information released to the community is accurate. We need to get to the bottom of what happened and make sure it never happens again."
Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, blamed Trump for what she said was a failure to take the threat of North Korea seriously.
"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 tweeted.
"The reality is that every American needs to understand that if 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 angry just like I am," she said.
Michelle Broder Van Dyke reported from Honolulu. David Mack and Amber Jamieson reported from New York City. Additional reporting by Julia Reinstein and Hayes Brown.
This is a developing story. 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.
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David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.
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Amber Jamieson is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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