Emergency smartphone alerts, by design, are alarming. Whether it’s dangerous weather or kidnappings, that blaring alarm demands attention.
However, on Saturday, residents in Hawaii received perhaps the most severe alert of all, creating utter pandemonium and sending natives and tourists running for their lives.
“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” flashed across Hawaiian’s smartphones on Saturday morning.
It may not have been a drill, but it was an error.
During a change of shift an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency pressed the wrong button, causing the alert to be spread far and wide.
It informed Hawaiians they had just a few minutes to find shelter from the incoming catastrophe. Some families entered the sewers for protection.
Unacceptably, it took 38 minutes for the correction, which read “False Alarm. There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii,” to reach Hawaiian smartphones.
That’s twice as long as it would have taken for a missile to reach the North Pacific chain of islands, from North Korea.
The error came amid rising tensions and increasingly troublesome rhetoric between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his American counterpart, President Donald J. Trump.
Given Hawaii’s positioning, the islands would be earlier to reach than the US mainland. It was the Japanese strike against the Pearl Harbor base in 1941 that led to the United States’ entry into World War II.
With those echoes from the past, it’s little wonder Hawaiians took this alert deadly seriously.
“This should not have happened,” said Governor David Ige.
“We are investigating the sequence of events that occurred. An error was made in emergency management which allowed this false alarm to be sent. 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.”
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