On Saturday, smartphones in Hawaii lit up with the ominous warning, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” A minor panic almost immediately ensued as the public wondered whether a nuclear warhead was indeed about to obliterate part of the U.S.
Officials also overrode Hawaiian television with a terrifying message ordering residents to stop whatever they were doing and “take immediate action measures,” including pulling vehicles off of roads and finding shelter.
Fortunately, there’s no imminent nuclear strike inbound on the Aloha State. Mere minutes later, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard posted on Twitter that the warning was a false alarm, adding that she had personally confirmed with officials that there is no missile threat to Hawaii at this time. BuzzFeed News reporter Amber Jamieson added that a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency official informed her that the alert was related to a drill and that they were trying to send a second message.
In recent months, Hawaiian officials have reactivated decades-old systems designed to warn residents of imminent nuclear strikes amid ongoing tensions with North Korea and President Donald Trump’s threats of nuclear war. According to the Washington Post, while experts believe that roughly 90 percent of the Hawaiian population would survive the immediate effects of such a strike, there are currently no designated nuclear shelters in the state, and in all likelihood residents would have no more than 12 to 15 minutes to find cover.
Update 3:43pm ET: According to CNN, Hawaii Gov. David Ige says that there was never any missile threat or drill and that staff error was responsible for the alert.
“It was a mistake made during a standard procedure at the change over of a shift, and an employee pushed the wrong button,” Ige told press.
Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz added that “What happened today is totally inexcusable. The whole state was terrified. There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.”
Per CNBC, residents could be seen fleeing for safety after the alert went out, while some locals received frantic messages from loved ones urging them to take shelter. Although officials sent another message to locals informing them of the error, they did so only 38 minutes later, compounding the mistake and leaving many Hawaiians hiding in cover for the duration.