By Natalie Roadarmel
On Jan. 13 at 8:07 a.m, a message was sent out to all cell phones, televisions, and radios in the state of Hawaii “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT BOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”. This false warning sent residents into complete chaos, as state officials have estimated they would have only 12 minutes to find shelter, and it is known that it would take a little more than half an hour for a missile launched from North Korea to hit Hawaii, covering around 5,700 miles. It took 38 minutes for Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency to issue a second message confirming that the alarm was false.
Responses to this alarm varied greatly across Hawaii, from stores closing to those who needed shelter to children going down manholes and hotels evacuating all guests. Although the threat was short, the emotions it brought were long-lasting for many residents. Many students at Willamette were also personally affected by this accident. Kalei Kaaialii ‘21 stated, “I heard about the threat because of everyone’s phones. They were all going off. At first I thought nothing of it, it didn’t feel real.” Never being exposed to a threat of this nature before, many people were unprepared. “A lot of people were panicking and in a rush and didn’t know what to do because we don’t have bomb shelters around.” When asked how her family responded to the threat, Nikki Seina ‘21 said, “My dad didn’t even care! He got back in the car and started driving. He was making jokes on how we should go on a hike to hide in a pillbox.”
Hawaiian governor David Ige reported that the threat was a result of human error. “I wish I could say there was a simple reason for why it took so long to get the correction to the false alert out,” He stated during a broadcast address to the state on Monday. The accidental threat was sent out by a Hawaii emergency management employee accidentally clicking the wrong button in a menu of dropdown options. Although this mistake was small, it had huge effects. This employee was later reassigned and pending investigation as a result of the mistake. The state agency he works for has recently received death threats after the chaos that the ballistic missile threat caused. Ige tweeted later that morning, “I am meeting this morning with top officials of the State Department of Defense and the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to determine what caused this morning’s false alarm and to prevent it from happening again.”
President Trump spent the day at his Trump International golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida. A few minutes after the false alarm was sent in Hawaii, Trump walked inside to have his lunch at the golf course. He was on the back nine of his course at this time, and decided to finish out 18 after the false alarm. President Trump took an unconventional route, in that his first response to the false alarm was a tweet that read, “So much Fake News is being reported. They don’t even try to get it right, or correct it when they are wrong. They promote the Fake Book of a mentally deranged author, who knowingly writes false information. The Mainstream Media is crazed that WE won the election!” Backlash on twitter ensued, as Americans spoke out against Trump’s lack of response. One member, Eric Wilcox, responding by saying “There are no Trump golf courses in Hawaii, so he couldn’t care less.”
Although steps have been taken to prevent this situation from happening again, the State of Hawaii was greatly affected by this false alarm. The false alert two weeks into the new year will certainly not be easily forgotten by residents of Hawaii or the rest of the United States.