Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat via AP
EO file photo
There’s nothing like impending nuclear attack to mess up a vacation.
Kim Puzey, of Hermiston, drove along a highway on Maui on Saturday morning with two friends, chatting about an upcoming bike ride when suddenly all their phones chirped in unison.
“It sounded like an amber alert,” said Puzey, who manages the Port of Umatilla. “The screen said, ‘Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.’”
The men stared at each other in disbelief. Traffic slowed.
“People pulled over to the side of the road,” Puzey said. “I saw confusion, but not panic.”
Everyone contemplated this freakish news. Should they take cover or just carry on?
If it was real, Puzey surmised, he expected the missile to be intercepted, but just in case things went awry, he decided to call his family back in Oregon.
“If it’s true, I wanted you to know how much I love you,” Puzey remembers telling his wife, Julie.
Another Hermiston resident, Herman Hull, got the alert on the island of Oahu. Hull, who co-owns the Delish Bistro in Hermiston, has family on Oahu and had just arrived at a gymnasium where his grandson had an early morning basketball game in Waialua on the island’s north shore.
“Everyone who was there got the alert at the same time — all 60 or 70 of us,” Hull said.
Amazingly, he said, “everyone was really rather calm.” Luckily, a Homeland Security employee who is a friend of Hull’s son-in-law was there to watch the game.
“She was immediately on the phone to someone at Wheeler Air Force Base,” Hull said. “She knew right away it was a false alarm and got the word out.”
Hull nonetheless had several minutes to ponder his fate before learning the alert was an error. He gathered his family around him close to a concrete wall for whatever protection that might offer. Later, he watched news about the scare. People had abandoned cars on a major highway north of Honolulu and fled to a nearby tunnel. Others had scurried for basements and even removed manhole covers and lowered their children into the sewer system.
“I had no idea how much panic it caused,” he said.
Thirty-eight minutes after the original alert, another message said the missile warning was a false alarm. Gov. David Ige sent out a statement after the incident.
“I know first-hand how today’s false alarm affected all of us here in Hawaii, and I am sorry for the pain and confusion it caused. I, too, am extremely upset about this and am doing everything I can do to immediately improve our emergency management systems, procedures and staffing.”
Ige told CNN that a state employee had inadvertently “pushed the wrong button.”
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) website posted a timeline of the false alarm.
8:05 a.m. – A routine internal test during a shift change was initiated, involving the Emergency Alert System and the Wireless Emergency Alert, but no warning sirens.
8:07 a.m. – The warning test was triggered.
8:10 a.m. – State Adjutant Maj. Gen. Joe Logan validated with the U.S. Pacific Command that there was no missile launch. Honolulu Police Department were notified of the false alarm.
8:13 a.m. – The Civil Danger Warning Message was canceled to prevent the initial alert from being rebroadcast to phones that may not have received it yet, such as those out of range and coming back into cell coverage or people getting off planes.
8:20 a.m. – Public notification of cancellation appears on Facebook and Twitter.
8:24 a.m. – Governor Ige retweets cancellation notice.
8:30 a.m. – Governor posts cancellation notification to his Facebook page.
8:45 a.m. – After getting authorization from FEMA Integral Public Alert and Warning System, HI- EMA issued a false alert message.
These 38 minutes of panic in paradise led some to wonder why it took so long before the second cell phone message went out. The governor suspended all future drills until a full analysis of the incident is completed.
Having been temporarily whipsawed from his Hawaiian vacation bliss, Puzey said the event brought current tensions between the U.S. and North Korea closer to home.
“My greatest concern,” he said, “is with the potential for mistakes of a much greater magnitude and the inflammatory rhetoric between two woefully intemperate national leaders.”
Contact Kathy Aney at firstname.lastname@example.org or 941-966-0810.