Hawaii missile alert fail: What went wrong and how to respond to future alerts?

Jan 16, 2018


A morning view of the city of Honolulu, Hawaii is seen on January 13, 2018. Social media ignited on after apparent screenshots of cell phone emergency alerts warning of a “ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii” began circulating, which US officials quickly dismissed as “false.”; Credit: EUGENE TANNER/AFP/Getty Images


On Saturday, Hawaii residents woke up to a frightening but false alert to seek immediate shelter from an inbound ballistic missile.

It took 38-minutes of pandemonium until an official correction report was issued.

Hawaii officials apologized to an enraged state that had to abandon cars on the highway and rush to call and find their loved ones. Many residents weren’t even sure of how to prepare for a missile attack, with some desperately huddling with their families in bathtubs and garages. In an original timeline, officials said that an emergency management employee hit a “wrong button,” but subsequent reports show the protocol for issuing emergency alerts in Hawaii is much more complicated.

The FCC has launched an investigation into the incident, with Chairman Ajit Pai stating that the mishap was “absolutely unacceptable” and undermines “public confidence in the alerting system and thus reduce their effectiveness during real emergencies.”

This morning, Japan also experienced a similar scare after broadcasting a false North Korea missile threat alert.

We get the latest on the story and also parse through how to respond to future alerts.


Todd Frankel, reporter for the Washington Post who has been following the story; he tweets @tcfrankel

This content is from Southern California Public Radio. View the original story at

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