STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

Missile-alert error reveals uncertainty about how to react

When Jonathan Scheuer got an alert on his phone of a ballistic missile headed for Hawaii, he and his family didn't know what to do.

Posted: Jan 16, 2018 7:44 AM

HONOLULU (AP) - When Jonathan Scheuer got an alert on his phone of a ballistic missile headed for Hawaii, he and his family didn't know what to do.

They went to their guest bedroom, then decided it would be safer on the ground floor of their Honolulu home.

"What do we do?" he wondered. "Where do we go?"

People should immediately seek shelter in a building "or other substantial structure," once an attack-warning siren sounds, according to guidance the state distributed previously. The state recommends having 14-day survival kit of food and water.

Residents and tourists alike remained rattled after the mistaken alert was blasted out to cellphones across the islands with a warning to seek immediate shelter and the ominous statement: "This is not a drill."

"Clearly there is a massive gap between letting people know something's coming and having something for them to do," Scheuer said Sunday. "Nobody knew what to do."

Lisa Foxen, a social worker and mother of two young children in east Honolulu, said the best thing to come out of the scare was that it pushed her family to come up with a plan if there is a real threat.

"I kind of was just almost like a deer in headlights," she said. "I knew what to do in a hurricane. I knew what to do in an earthquake. But the missile thing is new to me."

The blunder that caused more than a million people in Hawaii to fear that they were about to be struck by a nuclear missile fed skepticism about the government's ability to keep them informed in a real emergency.

"My confidence in our so-called leaders' ability to disseminate this vital information has certainly been tarnished," said Patrick Day, who sprang from bed when the alert was issued Saturday morning. "I would have to think twice before acting on any future advisory."

The erroneous warning was sent during a shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency when someone doing a routine test hit the live alert button, state officials said.

That employee has been reassigned to a job without access to the warning system amid an internal investigation, agency spokesman Richard Rapoza said Monday. No other personnel changes have been made, he said.

Officials tried to assure residents there would be no repeat false alarms. The agency changed protocols to require that two people send an alert and made it easier to cancel a false alarm - a process that took nearly 40 minutes.

The error sparked a doomsday panic across the islands known as a laid-back paradise. Parents clutched their children, huddled in bathtubs and said prayers. Students bolted across the University of Hawaii campus to take cover in buildings. Drivers abandoned cars on a highway and took shelter in a tunnel. Others resigned themselves to a fate they could not control and simply waited for the attack.

The 911 system for the island of Oahu was overwhelmed with more than 5,000 calls. There were no major emergencies during the false alarm, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.

President Donald Trump said Sunday the federal government will "get involved," but didn't release details.

An investigation into what went wrong was underway at the Federal Communications Commission, which sets rules for wireless emergency alerts sent by local, state or federal officials to warn of the threat of hurricanes, wildfires, flash flooding and to announce searches for missing children.

The state of Hawaii "did not have reasonable safeguards or process controls in place to prevent the transmission of a false alert," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement, calling the mistake "absolutely unacceptable."

"False alerts undermine public confidence in the alerting system and thus reduce their effectiveness during real emergencies," he said.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen urged Americans not to lose faith in their government.

"I would hate for anybody not to abide by alerts and warnings coming from government systems," Nielsen said on "Fox News Sunday." ''They can trust government systems. We test them every day. This is a very unfortunate mistake, but these alerts are vital. Seconds and minutes can save lives."

With mobile phones ubiquitous, wireless alerts can quickly disseminate information to a wide number of users, but there have been concerns about creating a panic if they are sent too broadly.

Authorities were criticized for not sending an alert to mobile phones when fires ripped through Northern California in October, killing 40 people. Officials had decided not to use the system because they couldn't target them precisely enough and feared a wider broadcast would lead to mass evacuations, including people not in danger, snarling traffic that would hamper firefighting and rescues efforts.

Saturday's mistake was not the first for the state's warning system. During a test last month, 12 of the state's 386 sirens played an ambulance siren. In the tourist hub of Waikiki, the sirens were barely audible, prompting officials to add more sirens and reposition ones already in place.

People need to step back from questioning who pushed the button and why and focus on military de-escalation, Scheuer said.

The false alarm triggered a broader discussion about national security at a time when North Korea has been flexing its muscles by launching test missiles and bragging about its nuclear capability. Its leader, Kim Jong Un, has also exchanged insults on Twitter with President Donald Trump about their arsenals.

The standoff has whipped up nuclear fears on Hawaii and led the islands to revive Cold War-era siren tests that drew international attention.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat, said officials should be held accountable for the "epic failure of leadership" behind the warning. She said the nuclear threat underscored the need for Trump to meet with Kim to work out differences without preconditions.

"The people of Hawaii are paying the price now for decades of failed leadership in this country" by setting "unrealistic preconditions," she said. "The leaders of this country need to experience that same visceral understanding of how lives are at stake."

___

Melley reported from Los Angeles. Tom Strong in Washington contributed to this report.

___

This story has been corrected to show that Tulsi Gabbard's name was misspelled Tusi.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 8 p.m. ET)

Confirmed Cases: 35237

Reported Deaths: 2197
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion9978592
Lake3689200
Allen171170
Cass15927
Elkhart138428
St. Joseph130934
Hendricks117773
Hamilton117093
Johnson1117110
Madison59461
Porter54729
Bartholomew52138
Clark51941
LaPorte43424
Howard42934
Tippecanoe4184
Jackson3942
Delaware38540
Shelby37522
Hancock34528
Floyd31940
Boone31635
Vanderburgh2842
Morgan28124
Montgomery24416
Noble23821
Clinton2381
White2389
Decatur22531
Grant21923
Dubois2023
Harrison19622
Henry18412
Vigo1718
Dearborn16921
Monroe16912
Greene16925
Warrick16628
Lawrence16524
Kosciusko1561
Miami1411
Putnam1377
Jennings1314
Orange13022
Marshall1282
Scott1213
Franklin1108
Ripley1086
Daviess9416
LaGrange932
Carroll933
Wayne855
Steuben852
Wabash792
Newton7810
Fayette787
Jasper681
Jay530
Washington511
Clay512
Fulton491
Rush483
Randolph483
Pulaski470
Jefferson461
Whitley433
Starke393
DeKalb371
Sullivan361
Owen341
Perry330
Brown331
Benton320
Wells320
Knox290
Huntington282
Blackford272
Tipton251
Crawford240
Fountain222
Switzerland210
Spencer211
Adams201
Gibson172
Parke170
Posey160
Ohio130
Warren121
Martin120
Vermillion100
Union90
Pike60
Unassigned0175

Illinois Coronavirus Cases

(Widget updates once daily at 7 p.m. CT)

Confirmed Cases: 122848

Reported Deaths: 5525
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Cook796733726
Lake8450307
DuPage7818380
Kane6467186
Will5649280
Winnebago231356
McHenry160673
St. Clair117286
Kankakee93050
Kendall81919
Rock Island68324
Champaign6527
Madison59560
Boone47617
DeKalb4225
Sangamon35029
Jackson28910
Randolph2704
Peoria2629
McLean22113
Ogle2143
Stephenson2112
Macon19419
Clinton18817
Union15711
LaSalle15414
Unassigned1470
Whiteside14213
Iroquois1324
Coles12715
Warren1170
Out of IL1151
Grundy1012
Jefferson10116
Knox1010
Monroe9612
McDonough9113
Lee821
Cass740
Tazewell745
Henry690
Williamson682
Pulaski550
Marion500
Jasper467
Macoupin462
Adams441
Perry410
Montgomery401
Vermilion401
Morgan381
Christian354
Livingston342
Jo Daviess320
Douglas280
Jersey241
Fayette213
Woodford212
Ford201
Menard200
Mason180
Washington180
Hancock171
Mercer170
Shelby161
Bureau151
Carroll152
Schuyler130
Bond121
Crawford120
Franklin120
Fulton120
Clark110
Logan110
Moultrie110
Piatt110
Brown100
Cumberland100
Johnson90
Wayne91
Alexander80
Henderson80
Effingham71
Massac70
Saline70
Greene50
Marshall50
Wabash50
De Witt40
Lawrence40
Richland30
Stark30
Clay20
Edwards20
Gallatin20
Hamilton20
White20
Calhoun10
Edgar10
Hardin10
Pike10
Pope10
Putnam10
Terre Haute
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 69°
Robinson
Clear
68° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 68°
Indianapolis
Broken Clouds
69° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 69°
Rockville
Clear
65° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 65°
Casey
Clear
71° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 71°
Brazil
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 89° Lo: 67°
Feels Like: 69°
Marshall
Clear
69° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 68°
Feels Like: 69°
Sunny and Hot! Afternoon Storms.
WTHI Planner
WTHI Temps
WTHI Radar

WTHI Events