For 38 minutes residents and tourists of Hawaii expected to be hit by a ballistic missile, and it has people asking why it took so long for the public to be informed that the emergency alert was nothing more than an employee error.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on January 15, 2018

A blunder by an employee has sent terrified people diving into bathtubs, running from their cars looking up at the sky, racing to get to loved ones and saying their prayers.

On Saturday at 8am local time, every mobile phone in Hawaii was greeted with a doomsday text message reading: “Emergency Alert — BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

For the longest 38 minutes in the lives of the state’s residents and tourists, they awaited their fate. They had been told by the government that a missile strike was imminent, and with Kim Jong-un saying his nuclear launch button was always on the desk in his office, there was no reason to doubt it.

Mass hysteria then ensued.

How people reacted to the alert

MSNBC producer Lisa Feierman shared text messages she had received from a friend whose relatives had been caught in traffic at the time of the warning.

“It was mass chaos people getting out of cars and running and looking at the sky. Other cousin was in the airport and people were sobbing,” one of the texts read.

Feierman then received another message from her friend saying: “Someone else I know went to a makeshift shelter with a bottle of wine and bottles of pills… The stories coming out are nuts.”

Someone else I know went to a makeshift shelter with a bottle of wine and bottles of pills.

Matt LoPresti, a state representative, told CNN he and his family took cover in their bathtub after receiving the message.

“I was sitting in the bathtub with my children, saying our prayers,” he said. “We took it as seriously as a heart attack… I’m extremely angry right now.”

But there were others who couldn’t get to family members.

Gene Park, social media editor at the Washington Post, tweeted out a message from his friend in Hawaii, who said he had to make the gut-wrenching decision to try and spend his final moments with his youngest children, separated from other members of his family.

There was also a huge spike in ‘How to survive nuclear attacks’ Google searches, and one person even emailed Business Insider’s science correspondent Dave Mosher, who has written on the topic.

“My husband and I went outside to the beach because we were afraid of being inside a building and getting crushed. Like in 9-11,” the person wrote to Mosher. “Then I googled ‘safety nuclear bomb how shelter’ and an article by you was the first thing that popped up. In seconds I read that we should be inside and we quickly followed that advice.”

Mosher tweeted that he had written the article in the hopes that “no one would *ever” have to frantically search the internet to find it… Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened today.”

Hawaii makes assurances it will never happen again

Of course, we now know that the alert was the result of a human error. An unnamed civil defence employee reportedly pressed the wrong button and “feels terrible” about it.

Hawaii’s emergency management administrator Vern T Miyagi yesterday said it was an honest mistake and the employee would “be counselled and drilled so this never happens again”.

Hawaii’s governor David Ige said it was unacceptable that the system allows one person to send off the emergency alert.

“We’ve implemented change already to assure that it becomes a redundant process so that it won’t be a single individual [responsible for issuing alerts],” Ige told media.

“There’ll be at least two people that would be involved to initiate the alert.”

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard voiced many people’s thoughts, when she slammed the snail-paced response to the mistake. It took 38 minutes for the agency to inform people via text that it was a false alarm.

“It’s an epic failure of leadership,” said Gabbard.

“It was unacceptable that this went out in the first place, but the fact that it took so long for them to put out that second message, to calm people, to allay their fears that this was a mistake, a false alarm is something that has to be fixed, corrected with people held accountable.”