Hawaiians awoke to a startling message on Saturday morning.
A mobile phone alert went out to residents of the US state after 8am local time that falsely warned a missile attack was imminent. “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” the alert read, based on screenshots posted to social media.
A voice alert also appeared to go out over local TV stations, interrupting local broadcasts.
Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard said shortly afterward that the alert was a false alarm, citing contacts with defense officials. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency also confirmed there was no missile threat to the state. The city and county of Honolulu said in a statement that the warning was issued in error by “the State Warning Point.”
Governor David Ige, who met with officials at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency after the incident, said the alert was triggered when someone pressed “the wrong button” during a routine shift change, CNN reported. That reportedly sent the alert out over mobile phones and local TV and radio stations. The agency contacted the radio and TV stations to tell them it was a false alarm, but it took time to correct the mobile alert. The correction went out 38 minutes after the false alert on Saturday, the outlet reported.
The false alarm drew widespread condemnation for hurting confidence in emergency warning systems and frightening citizens at a time of tensions between the US and North Korea, which has been testing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons in contravention of international sanctions.
The leaders of the two countries, who have traded public insults, touted their nuclear buttons in recent weeks, putting some Americans on edge. Public health agency the Center for Disease Control even planned to hold a session on nuclear attack preparedness next week, but postponed it (paywall) after the agenda was publicized and drew scrutiny.
Still, North and South Korea recently began new talks ahead of the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, and US president Donald Trump professed that he had a “very good relationship with Kim Jong Un,” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal (paywall) this week.
Update (3:15pm ET): This post was updated to include details that became available about how the false alarm was triggered.