Hawaii missile alert on smartphones was false alarm

Hawaiians got a terrifying alert on their phones and TVs Saturday. Lucky for them, the warning about an incoming missile was a mistake.

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Waikiki Beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

Waikiki Beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Residents of the islands got spooked by a bogus alert about a missile attack.

Sergi Reboredo/Getty Images

An emergency alert notification that went out Saturday warning of a missile strike on Hawaii was a false alarm, state officials said.

"Hawaii - This is a false alarm. There is no incoming missile to Hawaii," read a tweet from congressional Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. "I have confirmed with officials there is no incoming missile."

In her tweet, Gabbard included a screengrab from a phone, showing the bogus alert, which went out Saturday morning and read, "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."

The alert was also broadcast on Hawaiian TV, according to CBS News, and said: "If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a nearby building or lie on the floor. We will announce when the threat has ended. This is not a drill."

The false alarm came amid tensions between the US and North Korea, which in November tested a ballistic missile in defiance of US President Donald Trump . The same month, the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said in a press release that it would start testing a statewide warning siren system and discuss "what the agency is doing to prepare our state for a nuclear threat." Last week, it issued another release, saying a test of the Cold War-era siren system would also involve testing alerts to TV, radio and mobile devices.

"In the event of a real emergency, warning sirens and Emergency Alert Broadcasts would be joined by alerts via the Wireless Emergency Alert system, which delivers sound-and-text warnings to mobile telephones and compatible devices," reads the release.

Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz told CBS News the mishap with the push alert may have been caused by human error.

"We're taking a deep breath knowing that it was a false alarm," Schatz told CBS . "What I am hearing, and I don't know for sure, is that it was human error. Regardless of whether it was human error, a glitch or a hack, whatever it was, it is totally unacceptable."

"The whole state was terrified," Schatz said earlier, in a tweet. "There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process."

"There is nothing more important to Hawaii than professionalizing and fool-proofing this process," Schatz said in a separate tweet.

Hawaii's governor, David Ige, also pointed to human error, CNN reported.

"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 the news network.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency didn't respond to a request for comment, but agency spokesman Richard Repoza told CBS the agency is trying to figure out what went wrong. CBS also reported that a White House official said the alert was "purely a state exercise."

On Saturday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai tweeted that his agency is launching a full investigation into the mishap. And on Sunday, the FCC issued a formal statement from Pai saying the investigation is underway.

"We have been in close contact with federal and state officials, gathering the facts about how this false alert was issued," Pai said. "Based on the information we have collected so far, it appears that the government of Hawaii did not have reasonable safeguards or process controls in place to prevent the transmission of a false alert ... Moving forward, we will focus on what steps need to be taken to prevent a similar incident from happening again."

First published Jan. 13, 12:37 p.m. PT.
Updates, Jan. 14 at 7:51 a.m. and 9:42 a.m.: Adds info on FCC investigation.

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