‘This Is Not A Drill’: A false ballistic missile alert shakes Hawaii

In this Nov. 29, 2017, file photo, a Hawaii Civil Defense Warning Device, which sounds an alert siren during natural disasters, is seen in Honolulu. (Caleb Jones/AP)

In this Nov. 29, 2017, file photo, a Hawaii Civil Defense Warning Device, which sounds an alert siren during natural disasters, is seen in Honolulu. (Caleb Jones/AP)

Updated 3:04 p.m. ET

Hawaiians and tourists alike were shaken shortly after 8:00 a.m. HST when a push notification alerted those in the state of islands to a false missile threat, causing an immediate panic.

“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” read the message, which also blared across Hawaiian televisions stations.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-HI, confirmed the false alarm on Twitter 12 minutes after the errant message was sent.

Rep. Gabbard told CNN that the alert was “inadvertent,” according to a tweet by Jake Tapper.

“We’re in a process of sending another message to cancel the initial message. It was part of a drill that was going on,” a spokesperson from Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency told BuzzFeed News.

Hugh Rowden, from Dicater, IL, was in Waikiki when he got the alarm. “We’ve been so safe for so long,” he said. “This was a different sensation, that’s for sure.”

Minnesota Public Radio’s Brian Bakst was in Mauii with his family when they got the alert on their phones and smartwatches.

“You might imagine, this startles you first thing in the morning,” he said. “Especially in a place you don’t know.” He and his family took shelter in a shower as their TV blared the alert over the background of a local college basketball game.

About 15 minutes later, he says, he got another smartphone alert reading, “THERE IS NO MISSILE THREAT OR DANGER TO THE THREAT OF HAWAII. REPEAT: FALSE ALARM.”

Hawaiians heard a nuclear attack warning siren test last December for the first time since the Cold War, when the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tested a statewide alert tone signaling nuclear threat.

“What the people of Hawaii went through … is a true realization that they’ve got 15 minutes to get to shelter or they’re going to be dead – Gone,” Rep. Gabbard told MSNBC.

“What happened today is totally inexcusable,” tweeted Sen. Brian Schatz, D-HI. “The whole state was terrified. There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.”

The Federal Communications Commission is launching a full investigation into the alert, according to its Chief of Staff Matthew Berry.

FCC is launching full investigation into false alert in Hawaii.

NPR’s Tamara Keith contributed to this report.

This is a developing story. Some things that get reported by the media will later turn out to be wrong. We will focus on reports from police officials and other authorities, credible news outlets and reporters who are at the scene. We will update as the situation develops.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.