Hawaiians were sent into a panic on Saturday after an alert claimed — falsely, as it turned out — that a ballistic missile was heading for the island.
Around 1pm Eastern, social media lit up with Hawaii residents who received cellphone alerts stating that a projectile was heading for the island. The message, which was accidentally transmitted by the Civil Defense department, was accompanied by an ominous warning that the alarm was “not a drill.”
The alert momentarily put recipients into a state of frenzy, with scores reportedly running for shelter, until Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard debunked it as a false alarm. Hawaiian officials, as well as the U.S. Pacific Command, quickly followed suit.
“State Warning Point has issued a Missile Alert in ERROR! There is NO threat to the State of Hawaii,” U.S. Pacific Command’s David Benham said in a statement.
The panic comes as tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have been heightened — a fact that was not lost on Hawaiians who were sent scrambling as the mistaken alert flooded cellphones across the island.
Jodi Luchs, an ophthalmologist from Merrick, N.Y. visiting Hawaii for a conference, told CNBC that he was settling in for breakfast on an otherwise perfect day, when hundreds of diners received the false alarm simultaneously.
“On the face of it was extremely concerning…everyone got up rather orderly got up and started filing toward the interior areas of the hotel” because the venue had no basement, Luchs told CNBC. About half an hour passed before the hotel’s guests got an all-clear, he said, adding that some people were legitimately scared and in tears until they realized the alarm was false.
“Most people were obviously very relieved about everything, and the concern was real given that the wording of the message did not leave much to the imagination,” Luchs told CNBC. “With tensions with North Korea, everyone regarded this as a serious threat.”
Over the last several years, North Korea has tested a volley of ballistic missiles and repeatedly threatened the U.S. with nuclear conflict. Amid the threat, Hawaii last month tested a nuclear siren warning for the first time since the Cold War.