It’s Been a Year Since a Hawai‘i False Missile Alert Launched a Wave of Fear Across the State

We look back at that stressful Saturday and what happened since.


On Saturday morning, Jan. 13, 2018, state emergency worker sent this message to cell phones, government agencies and broadcast outlets: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”


Some people slept through it or never got the alert, some called or texted loved ones in case it was true and figured out which rooms in their homes would protect them. Others panicked, including an O‘ahu man shown on video on Twitter ushering his terrified children underground through a manhole.


SEE ALSO: Here’s How Hawai‘i Responded on Social Media to the False Ballistic Missile Alert


It took 38 long minutes for the state to officially notify everyone it was a false alarm, although Honolulu police and some politicians sent out word earlier that there was no emergency.


Afterward, investigations and outrage followed as we all found out how easy it was for one employee to freak us all out. It seems employees were testing a new alarm in light of heightened tensions between President Donald Trump and North Korea. The employee who sent the alert later told authorities and the media that he thought the emergency was real.


Since then, investigations blamed human error and a lack of administrative safeguards. That employee was fired and the top officials in that office resigned. The folks who run it now say they’ve stopped those alert drills since tensions eased, and they’ve rewritten the procedures so one person can’t send out a similar alert without any confirmation or a second look.


On the federal level, several bills were introduced in Congress, including one by Hawai‘i Sen. Brian Schatz to prevent people from being able to opt out of alerts; and to use audio and video streaming services to send out any future alerts.


Let’s hope that all works because, looking back at what happened a year ago, we’d like to avoid a repeat performance.