On Saturday morning January 13, residents of the Hawaiian Islands received an emergency alert that warned of an incoming ballistic missile and instructed everyone to take cover. Residents near Honolulu, the expected ground zero of any nuclear attack, fled for their lives to more remote areas of Oahu expecting the worst.
This is what appeared on peoples’ cell phones at 8:07 am local Hawaii time:
Then after 38 minutes of sheer terror for many all over the Hawaiian islands, residents were notified by the emergency alert system that it was all a false alarm.
Someone had pressed the wrong button according to local State authorities. Residents were supposed to be reassured that the responsible individual would be reassigned. An inquiry has been launched by the Hawaii Governor David Ige.
Mainstream media coverage has exclusively focused on Hawaii State authorities explaining that the problem was one person pressing the wrong button. According to an official timeline of events, U.S. Pacific Command notified Hawaii State authorities that there was no missile launch at 8:10 am.
Local authorities subsequently attempted to inform the public via a number of means that the ballistic missile alert was a false alarm. But it was only at 8:45 am, 38 minutes after the initial alert, that a second emergency alert was sent over the Public Alert and Warning System announcing the mistake.
Was the long delay between warning and the warning retraction received by Hawaii residents simply the unprecedented foul up of an emergency alert sent by State authorities, or was something else happening?
My wife and I have lived on the Big Island of Hawaii since 2004, and during our time here there have been a steady number of emergency alerts issued for hurricanes, tsunamis, flash flooding, and lava flows. Sirens regularly wail at the start of the month to test the emergency alert system for these kinds of events, and more recently for a possible nuclear missile attack from North Korea.
The regular occurrence of destructive events and their consequences in the region have led to an emergency alert system that is second to none when it comes to providing timely and accurate information to Hawaii residents in potentially life threatening circumstances.