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3 years ago, a missile alert scare caused panic across Hawaii. Here’s what’s changed since

On Jan. 13, 2018, over a million people in Hawaii received an emergency alert warning of a ballistic missile threat.
Road sign that reads 'MISSILE ALERT IN ERROR - THERE IS NO THREAT' that was put up by the...
Road sign that reads 'MISSILE ALERT IN ERROR - THERE IS NO THREAT' that was put up by the Hawaii Dept. of Transportation.
Updated: Jan. 13, 2019 at 5:10 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Jan. 13, 2021 marks three years since Hawaii residents and visitors were thrown into a panic over a feared missile threat.

Those in Hawaii woke up to their worst nightmares: A terrifying emergency alert on their cell phones that warned of a ballistic missile threat. It read in part, “THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

The alert on Jan. 13, 2018, sent a wave of fear the state, with some running for their lives and others calling loved ones, thinking it was the last time they would ever speak to them again.

It wasn’t until 38 minutes later when emergency officials issued a corrected alert saying it was a false alarm, which then triggered frustration and anger over why it took so long for a correction to be issued.

Suffice it to say, many lessons have been learned along the way in hopes that something like this will never happen again.

A year after the alert, Tom Travis, the then-administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, told Hawaii News Now that “all of the ballistic missile alarms have been shelved.”

That includes emergency alerts via cell phone and outdoor emergency sirens, he said.

As part of a campaign to prepare residents in the months leading up to the false missile alert, Hawaii had been preparing for a possible nuclear attack as tensions escalated between the U.S. and the North Korea. But since then, Travis said “the danger has changed, so there’s no procedures left.”

He added, at the time, that “if conditions change, we might have to reevaluate.”

Travis took over HI-EMA around two months after the false missile alert, which led to the resignation of Vern Miyagi, who was administrator at the time. Toby Clairmont, executive officer of HI-EMA, also resigned in the wake of the bogus missile alert.

Meanwhile, the man responsible for the false missile alert has been fired by the state agency and is now on the mainland.

A state investigation claimed the man was a problem employee, but his attorney said the man was made to be the scapegoat and that the false missile alert was the result of miscommunication.

“His explanation was when the phone rang and they were calling in this test, someone picked up the phone," said lawyer Michael Green.

“When they hung up the phone what came out was ‘this is not a test, this is not a test.’”

Green said his client has received death threats and just wants his life to go back to normal.

“My guy was a supervisor for years, was well respected, loved his job. Then all of the sudden the earth turned upside down and swallowed him," Green said.

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