'Mass Hysteria': Panic Rattles Hawaii After False Missile Alert - NBC 7 San Diego
National & International News
The day’s top national and international news

'Mass Hysteria': Panic Rattles Hawaii After False Missile Alert

"Everyone thought they were going to die," one man said of the panic that ensued from the alert

    Winter Olympics PyeongChang 2018 Medal Count
    Country
    Total
    1
    Norway
    119828
    2
    Germany
    106420
    3
    Canada
    65617
    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    Missile Alert Mistake Sent to Cellphones

    The second recent blunder in Hawaii's planning for a possible North Korean nuclear attack left islanders shaken after an emergency alert warning of an imminent strike sounded on hundreds of thousands of cellphones. Chuck Henry reports for the NBC4 News at 11 on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. (Published Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018)

    The second recent blunder in Hawaii's planning for a possible North Korean nuclear attack created "mass hysteria" on the islands after an emergency alert warning of an imminent strike sounded on hundreds of thousands of cellphones.

    For nearly 40 minutes people waited. Then came the second mobile alert: someone hit the wrong button, there was no missile.

    Some people abandoned cars on the highway and others gathered in the interiors of their homes to wait for what seemed like the inevitable, a blast that would cause widespread death and destruction.

    The message sent statewide just after 8 a.m. Saturday read: "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

    'Regrettable': Hawaii Officials Speak on False Missile Alert'Regrettable': Hawaii Officials Speak on False Missile Alert

    After a false missile alert was sent out in Hawaii and sparked widespread panic, Gov. David Ige said the mistake "should not have happened," and Vern Miyagi of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said the error was "regrettable."

    (Published Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018)

    NBC Philadelphia's anchor Vai Sikahema spoke to MSNBC about receiving the alert. Sikahema said he texted his four college-age children, after none picked up the phone, letting them know he and their mom were in Hawaii. He then told them where they could find a will and insurance information. 

    Sikahema said his wife told him: "Hey, if this is it, I guess this is no better place to go then here in Hawaii and the two of us being together."

    Dan Smith, a student in Honolulu, noted the "mass hysteria" that ensued when the alert was sent. He said he was working at the University of Hawaii when he "literally saw hundreds of students in their PJ's running for shelter yelling, screaming, crying.
    "Everyone thought they were going to die," Smith told NBC in a Facebook message. "Complete state of panic and mass hysteria all over the islands. We even had a timer for how many minutes we had to find a safe enough place to stay. Cars were going 100 mph down the street. It was completely insane."

    Dan Smith, a student in Honolulu, described what he called the "mass hysteria" that ensued when the alert was sent. He said he was working at the University of Hawaii when he "literally saw hundreds of students in their PJ's running for shelter yelling, screaming, crying.

    "Everyone thought they were going to die," Smith told NBC in a Facebook message. "Complete state of panic and mass hysteria all over the islands. We even had a timer for how many minutes we had to find a safe enough place to stay. Cars were going 100 mph down the street. It was completely insane."

    California resident Elizabeth Fong was in Hawaii looking to buy a house and received the alert. She said she didn't receive a correction alert stating it was a false alarm until 8:46 a.m., nearly 40 minutes after the initial alert.

    "I prayed to God and asked for forgiveness of my sins and for Him to protect us," she said, adding that people are still shaken up.

    The aftermath of the false alert was "crazy," she told NBC Bay Area, and prompted people to run around on the streets "crying and screaming," wondering what to do.

    Many people took to social media to express their confusion and fear.


    The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency's administrator, Vern Miyagi, said he took responsibility for the mistake. He said officials would study the error to make sure it doesn't happen again.

    The state adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Joe Logan, said a written report would be prepared. State lawmakers announced they would hold a hearing next Friday. And Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Sunday in a statement that a full investigation is "well underway" after the incident "was absolutely unacceptable" and "caused a wave of panic."

    The backlash from lawmakers was swift.

    Hawaii House Speaker Scott Saiki said the system Hawaii residents have been told to rely on failed miserably.

    "Clearly, government agencies are not prepared and lack the capacity to deal with emergency situations," he said in a statement.

    Hawaii U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz tweeted the false alarm was "totally inexcusable."

    "There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process," he wrote.

    "This false alert is detrimental to the integrity and trust of the emergency management system," said state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim.

    The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn't reach people who aren't on the social media platform. A mobile alert informing of the false alarm didn't reach cellphones until about 40 minutes later.

    NBC10 Anchor Told Children to Find Will, Insurance After False Missile ThreatNBC10 Anchor Told Children to Find Will, Insurance After False Missile Threat

    NBC10's Vai Sikahema was in Hawaii when an emergency alert stating a missile was heading toward the island was sent to phones. Vai described how he and his wife reacted to the news during an interview with MSNBC.

    (Published Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018)

    Many people said they are resigned to the fact that there is little they can actually do if a missile was to be launched toward the remote island chain, especially with only about 15 minutes of warning time for a strike from North Korea.

    Andy Thammavongsa, who tweeted a screenshot of his phone that showed the time between each alert, lives in Ewa Beach and told NBC in a Twitter message, "Everyone was panicking, the whole island was awake and alert."

    He added that "there's nothing really you can do honestly" if the alert were real, saying there's "nowhere to take shelter, the island is only so big."

    He also said he received a correction alert some 38 minutes later.

    Joseph Kira was home with his kids when the alert came. His wife was at the gym.

    "My wife was going ballistic," he said. "At that point, you just pray and find God, I guess."

    With the threat of missiles from North Korea on people's minds, the state reintroduced the Cold War-era warning siren tests last month that drew international attention. But there were problems there, too.

    Even though the state says nearly 93 percent of the islands' 386 sirens worked properly during the December test, 12 mistakenly played an ambulance siren. In the tourist hub of Waikiki, the sirens were barely audible, prompting officials to add more sirens there and reposition ones already in place.

    Mary Hirose was with her children at an ice skating arena in Honolulu when the alert came.

    "Here, there is nothing you can do," she said. So, she grabbed her four children held them close, listened to the news and hoped for the best.

    She questioned why it took civil defense so long to send out the all-clear and why they tweeted before sending a mobile push alert.

    LA Plane Passengers Share Stories of Hawaii False Missile ThreatLA Plane Passengers Share Stories of Hawaii False Missile Threat

    A single human error sent an entire state into panic and passengers from Hawaii arrived at LAX with their own terrifying story to tell. Rick Montanez reports for the NBC4 News at 6 on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018.

    (Published Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018)

    Hawaii officials apologized repeatedly and said the alert was sent when someone hit the live alert button instead of an internal test button during a shift change.

    "Today is a day that most of us will never forget," said Hawaii Gov. David Ige. "A day when many in our community thought that our worst nightmare might actually be happening. A day when many frantically tried to think about the things that they would do if a ballistic missile launch would happen."

    The agency did not have a plan for a false alarm in place, officials said.

    Ige called the mistake unacceptable

    "I am sorry for the pain and confusion it caused," he said. "I, too, am extremely upset about this."

    On the H-3, a major highway north of Honolulu, vehicles sat empty after panicked drivers ran to a nearby tunnel for shelter, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported. Workers at a golf club huddled in a kitchen fearing the worst.

    Professional golfer Colt Knost, staying at Waikiki Beach during a PGA Tour event, said "everyone was panicking" in the lobby of his hotel.

    "Everyone was running around like, 'What do we do?'" he said.

    Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said Sunday on "Fox News Sunday" that people should still abide by alerts and the blunder was "a very unfortunate mistake."

    President Donald Trump said Sunday what happened Saturday "was a state thing" and that the federal government will "get involved" with Hawaii. He did not describe the level of federal involvement he envisions.

    NBC Bay Area, NBC Philadelphia and NBC editor Liz Lane contributed to this report.