Hawaii, U.S. – On the 13th January, all residents and visitors of Hawaii got a message warning them that there was a “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” This seems to be one of the most terrifying messages it is possible to receive at 8 AM on a Saturday morning.
Several officials and government agencies were quick to warn of the illegitimacy of the alarm, with both Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (Hawaii EMA) , U.S. Pacific Command and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard notifying the people of Twitter about it.
Lindsay Walters, the White House Deputy Press Secretary, later said that the President had been briefed on the issue, and that it was “purely a state exercise.”
Hawaii EMA themselves does not seem to understand what happened, as their spokesman Richard Repoza said they were still trying to figure it out, and according to Fox News, it took 35 minutes between the false warning alert and the EAS message retracting it. This almost exactly the amount of time it has been estimated to take for a North Korean missile to reach the states from the time it was launched, assuming it was detected already then. There also exists warning systems to detect pre-launch conditions, for instance noticing rising heat from missile silos, to warn of a potential missile being fueled. Some state officials have even claimed that a North Korean missile could strike the state within 20 minutes from launching.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard estimated that around a million of Hawaiians received the horrifying alert, causing panic, and spread quickly on social media. As it is the closest American state to North Korea, the fear wasn’t illegitimate or unrealistic, as they have been reported to possess ballistic missiles capable of reaching the state. Even then, Hawaii EMA still assesses North Korean missile threat to the state as “low”, but have been concerned about their ongoing missile tests.
The Hawaiian government reactivated missile warning sirens from the cold war due to concern about North Korean behavior, following efforts to develop a plan for dealing with an attack from the regime. Hawaii EMA’s Vern T. Miyagi stated the following:
“We do not want to cause any undue stress for the public; however, we have a responsibility to plan for all hazards. We don’t know the exact capabilities or intentions of the North Korean government, but there is clear evidence that it is trying to develop ballistic missiles that could conceivably one day reach our state. Therefore, we cannot wait to begin our public information campaign to ensure that Hawaii residents will know what to do if such an event occur.”
The Director of Communications of Tourism in Hawaii, Charlene Chan, warned of misinterpretation of reports about the necessity to prepare for an attack, and also noted that it might cause travelers and groups to stay away from the state.
This all elaborates the need for exercise alarms, and surely reminds of the likelihood of an actual attack, but it is still unknown what the false alarm was related to. Let’s just hope they don’t keep screaming “fire” in the theatre.