‘Is a missile coming?’ Authorities release 911 calls about false missile alert

Updated: Mar. 21, 2018 at 4:54 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the minutes after the false missile alert went to all Hawaii phones, fear and disbelief quickly turned to anger as residents learned that the warning about an inbound ballistic missile had been sent in error, newly-released 911 calls show.

Emergency dispatchers were inundated after the message was sent Jan. 13, fielding more than 2,000 calls from 8:07 a.m. to 8:45 a.m.

Initially, dispatchers could only tell callers to stay tuned to their TVs and radios for more information.

"We're trying to verify what's going on," one dispatcher told a caller.

"Should we just evacuate 'cause it's coming from China side?" the caller asked. "I can't say that, ma'am," the dispatcher responded.

Hawaii would later learn that the alert was sent to phones by a state Emergency Management Agency worker who was participating in an unscheduled drill that he thought was real. In the wake of the mistake, a campaign to prepare Hawaii for the nuclear missile threat from North Korea was put on hold.

The alert was triggered at 8:07 a.m., and within about 10 minutes, authorities were alerting residents by social media that the message was a false alarm.

But a correction message wasn't sent out until 8:43 a.m. And that meant the calls kept coming in.

Authorities released 24 calls into 911 about the missile alert. In the majority of those cases, dispatchers were able to tell callers that the message was a mistake.

The reactions to that news varied. Some people were simply relieved; others were livid.

"I just got a message on my phone telling me I need to take shelter," one caller said.

"It was just a drill. It was just a mistake," the dispatcher replied.

"OK. Oh man. OK."

Another caller started off with this: "I'm kind of scared."

The dispatcher works to calm her, saying, "It was a false alarm that was issued by the state."

"So we should be good?" the caller responded. The dispatcher replied: "We're good."

Another caller couldn't believe the alert was sent in error.

"We're shocked, you know," she said. "Whoo! The family is so scared. We got to find out who did that, you know? Go find out and go catch them and don't let them go."

Another woman sounded as if she was in tears when she asked, "Is a missile coming?"

"Ignore the message," the dispatcher responded calmly, "it was sent in error."

"Oh, thank God."

One man dialed 911 to say he wanted to make a complaint about the alert. "I'm very angry. I'm extremely upset," he said.

Another called the message a colossal mistake.

"Somebody needs to get their a** whooped and get slapped in the face," he said. "Everyone's on edge now. The whole community."

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