Police dispatch recordings show confusion, fear after false missile alert

Police dispatch recordings show confusion, fear after false missile alert
(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the minutes after an alert went out to Hawaii phones Saturday warning of an incoming ballistic missile, panicked residents flagged down police officers, asking if the threat was real and where they should run.

Officers didn't know how to answer.

Honolulu Police Department dispatch recordings, provided by Broadcastify, underscore the confusion and fear felt on the streets.

"We're getting flagged down by a lot of people for that, asking where the nearest shelter is," one officer tells dispatch.

Another officer: "Is that real? The text I got?"

The dispatcher responds, "Working on it now."

The alert sent Hawaii's 1.4 million residents and hundreds of thousands of visitors into a state of panic for more than 30 minutes — until emergency officials confirmed the message was sent in error and sent out a correction.

Within about 15 minutes, though, authorities knew the alert was a mistake.

And that's when police started trying anything they could think of to get the word out.

"If you guys gotta use your PAs on the white cars, go ahead," one officer said. "Don't be shame about it. We don't want everybody panicking."

Seconds after the alert was issued, 911 dispatchers were swamped with calls.

Honolulu Police Chief Susan Ballard has said dispatchers answered about 3,000 calls before the alert was canceled, while about 2,500 calls were dropped.

Once the alert was confirmed as false, dispatchers informed officers: "OK, we're getting a message, state warning point saying it was only supposed to be a drill, they sent out the wrong message," one dispatcher said, in the recordings. "They are working on sending out a correction now."

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