14 Jan 2018

Hawaii governor says sorry for false missile alert

4:41 pm on 14 January 2018

The governor of Hawaii has apologised for this morning's false alarm warning of an imminent missile strike saying it was unfortunate and regrettable.

People across the US state received a text alert this morning, spreading fear and panic for more than 20 minutes before the mistake was acknowledged.

The official alerts to cellphone users said "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill." The warning also went out to television and radio stations.

Governor of Hawaii David Ige said human error was the cause.

"This should not have happened, we are investigating the sequence of events that occurred. An error was made in emergency management ... it was a procedure that occurs at the change of shift where they make sure the system is working and an employee pushed the wrong button."

Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz said on Twitter that what happened was totally inexcusable. He said the whole state was terrified and there needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.

The US Federal Communications Commission said it was launching a "full investigation" into the false ballistic missile alert.

The New Zealand golfer Danny Lee, who is in Hawaii for a tournament, tweeted that he had received the alert.

PGA official Will Haskett was getting ready to drive to the course in Honolulu and told RNZ there was a great deal of concern by everyone at his hotel.

"There were sort of various levels of panic so you had people that were scrambling to get in their cars and try and get out and there were people that were running towards the parking garage to try and seek shelter underground," he said.

"And that lasted for about 20 minutes until finally there were the various tweets and alerts and things to say that it was actually a false alarm so for a period of about 20 minutes there it was a pretty heightened sense of fear and confusion."

Meanwhile, a New Zealander studying at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, Trish Tupou, said she bunkered down in a basement in her dorm with a handful of other students, before finding out the alert was a false alarm.

"People were really panicked. To be honest, it was terrifying. I've never experienced anything like that before.

"What this alerted us to is that no one is prepared if this actually happens ... no one took control of the situation."

Many people in Honolulu were now feeling on edge and very frazzled, she said.

Government Duty Minister Tracey Martin cannot say whether New Zealand was contacted regarding the mistaken missile warning. She said if there was a threat the United States would notify the government through normal security channels.

In December, Hawaii tested its nuclear warning siren for the first time since the end of the Cold War.

It came amid high international tensions over North Korea's development of a ballistic nuclear weapon.

North Korean President Kim Jong-un has threatened to unleash his country's growing missile weapon capability against the U.S. territory of Guam or U.S. states, prompting President Donald Trump to threaten tough actions against Pyongyang, including "fire and fury."

Last month, the Star-Advertiser also reported that a missile launched from North Korea could strike Hawaii within 20 minutes of launch.