Hawaii missile attack alert sparks mistaken terror

A terrifying false warning of an incoming missile sent residents of Hawaii into a panic earlier today, after blaring news of an imminent strike on their smartphones. "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii," the all-capitals message warned. "Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."

While not a drill, it wasn't connected to a real threat, either. According to the State Governor, David Ige, the ominous notification had been issued after an employee mistakenly triggered it, the Honolulu Star Advertiser reports. The same process also activated a pre-recorded TV and radio alert, which reiterated that it was not a drill, that people should stay indoors or seek shelter in a building away from windows, and that they should wait for further information.

A follow-up mobile alert came almost forty minutes later, telling residents to stand down and that there was, in fact, no threat. Earlier, the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) of Hawaii had posted a tweet confirming the all-clear. Unfortunately, that left a considerable window in which Hawaiians and visitors were left panicking.

Several stories of families cowering under makeshift shelters or sending hurried "last messages" to loved ones have proliferated across Twitter, prompted by the alert. The country has been fighting panic in recent months, after tensions with North Korea escalated. The US island state is potentially within reach of North Korea's nuclear missiles, tests have indicated.

The US FCC has confirmed it will undertake a complete investigation of the mistaken warning. "The FCC is launching a full investigation into the false emergency alert that was sent to residents of Hawaii," Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said today.

However, concerns have already been raised about how delays in testing the emergency alert system, lobbied for by the CTIA and Verizon, may have inadvertently aided in today's confusion. New FCC rules about emergency notifications went into place in late 2016, Motherboard points out, but a testing system for the local and state organizations who will be sending out such alerts has, courtesy of that wireless industry pressure, been delayed until March 2019.

The Hawaii EMA will be holding a press conference later today regarding the incident, though it may well take some time to trace all of the mistakes that went into today's false notification. Only in December 2017, Hawaii resumed testing of its nuclear warning system – which alerts the public in cases of emergencies – because of the heightened tensions with North Korea. "In the event of a real emergency, warning sirens and Emergency Alert Broadcasts would be joined by alerts via the Wireless Emergency Alert system," the EMA said earlier this month, "which delivers sound-and-text warnings to mobile telephones and compatible devices."