A Civil Defense employee is set to be retrained after a shocking blunder on Saturday morning, when a mistaken alert warning of an inbound ballistic missile sent thousands fleeing for shelter.
The false alarm was caused by a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee who 'pushed the wrong buttons' during an internal drill timed to coincide with a shift handover at 8.07am. The all-clear phone alert was not sent until 38 minutes later.
Incredibly, officials said the employee who made the mistake wasn't aware of it until mobile phones in the command center began displaying the alert.
'This guy feels bad, right. He's not doing this on purpose - it was a mistake on his part and he feels terrible about it,' said EMA Administrator Vern Miyagi in a press conference Saturday afternoon.
Miyagi, a retired Army major general, said the employee had been with the agency for 'a while' and that he would be 'counseled and drilled so this never happens again' - but stopped short of saying whether there would be disciplinary measures.
Hawaii Governor David Ige apologized at the press conference: 'I am sorry for the pain and confusion it caused. I, too, am extremely upset about this and am doing everything I can do to immediately improve our emergency management systems, procedures and staffing.'
Panicked Hawaiians ran for their lives and even lowered loved ones through manhole covers after receiving this alert at 8.07am local time: 'BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL'.
A similar message flashed up on local television networks and brought live sports games to a halt. Actor Jim Carrey, like many others, said he woke up thinking he had 'ten minutes to live'.
Residents of Hawaii are furiously asking why it took officials a whole 38 minutes to correct a missile threat warning that was sent out on Saturday morning, sparking panic across the state
EMA Administrator Vern Miyagi (left) and Hawaii Governor David Ige (right) apologized for the error at a press conference Saturday afternoon
Video appears to show a family taking shelter in the sewer through a manhole cover after a false alert of an inbound ballistic missile sparked panic in Hawaii on Saturday morning
Terror: People began to flee for their lives after the warning was sent that a ballistic missile was inbound to Hawaii
Actor Jim Carrey wrote that he woke up thinking that he had 'ten minutes to live'
On the H-3, a major highway north of Honolulu, vehicles sat empty after drivers left them to run to a nearby tunnel after the alert showed up, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
Fearing a nuclear attack, terrified residents and tourists including basketball legend Magic Johnson flocked to shelters and into their garages.
Officials have given the following timeline for the false alert on Saturday.
Approx. 8.05am: A routine internal test during a shift change was initiated. This was a test that involved the Emergency Alert System, the Wireless Emergency Alert, but no warning sirens.
8.07am: A warning was erroneously triggered statewide by an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA).
8.10am: State Adjutant Maj. Gen. Joe Logan validated with the US Pacific Command that there was no missile launch.
Honolulu Police Department notified of the false alarm by HI-EMA.
8.13am: State Warning Point issues a cancellation of the Civil Danger Warning Message. This would have prevented the initial alert from being rebroadcast to phones that may not have received it yet. For instance, if a phone was not on at 8.07am, it would not receive the alert later on.
8.20am: HI-EMA issues public notification of cancellation via their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
8.24am: Governor Ige retweets HI-EMA’s cancellation notice.
8.30am: Governor posts cancellation notification to his Facebook page.
8.45am: After getting authorization from FEMA Integral Public Alert and Warning System, HI-EMA issued a 'Civil Emergency Message' remotely, cancelling the false alert.
Golfers in Honolulu for the US PGA Tour's Sony Open were also thrown into panic and confusion by the mistaken alert
'Under mattresses in the bathtub with my wife, baby and in laws,' tweeted American golfer John Peterson. 'Please lord let this bomb threat not be real.'
The mistake was corrected by government agencies on Twitter 12 minutes later but it took 38 minutes for another phone alert to be issued confirming to residents that it was a false alarm. Some say they never received a second phone alert at all.
Miyagi said that there was no template in the system for an alert retraction, and so the all-clear message had to be manually entered and activated, accounting for some of the delay.
The EMA administrator said that cooling tensions between North and South Korea should have been a signal to residents that the alert was mistaken, urging Hawaiians to 'keep informed on what's going on on the tension between the two countries and monitor that.'
'I deeply apologize for the trouble and heartbreak that we caused today,' said Miyagi. 'We've spent the last few months trying to get ahead of this whole threat, so that we could provide as much notification and preparation to the public. We made a mistake.'
Officials are suspending further drills until the incident is fully investigated.
State emergency managers have also already implemented a two-person verification for alerts and an automated all-clear signal that can be used in the future.
When it became clear on Saturday morning that the ballistic missile alert had been a false alarm, the public's panic turned to fury.
'Imagine this for 37 agonizing minutes before it is deemed a false alarm,' said one person.
Honolulu is seen on Saturday morning, when a false alert of an inbound ballistic missile sent residents running for shelter in terror
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted this out, 12 minutes after the threat was issued to confirm the error. This post was made at 8.20am local time, 1.20pm EST
Officials scrambled to notify citizens that there was no inbound ballistic missile threat, but it took 38 minutes to issue an all-clear phone alert because it had to be sent manually
Lawmakers slammed the mistake as 'inexcusable' and said 'the whole state was terrified'.
Another critic said the delay in phone alerts meant that only people with access to social media would have known it was a false alarm straight away.
' It took until 8.45am to state it was a false alarm. 37 minutes where anyone in Hawaii who doesn't sit on Twitter dot com all day thought their island might be incinerated.'
Governor David Ige apologized for the false alarm of an inbound ballistic missile
'Fire people. Fix it,' one outraged commentator said.
At the same time as the phone alert, an emergency alert was broadcast across radio and television networks.
The TV and radio alert told viewers and listeners: 'If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows.
'If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter.'
The second message, sent at 8.45am, said: 'There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm.'
Calls from frightened residents inundated Civil Defense immediately asking for more information or advice after the first alert was issued.
People who say they got through to the office were then told it was a mistake that was caused by an employee who 'pushed the wrong buttons' during a drill.
One woman called 911 in panic and said she was told by the operator that staff were performing a drill when 'someone pushed the wrong buttons'.
'Called 911...Operator said it's a drill of Civil Defense Emergency System but someone pushed the wrong buttons..
'No missile is headed toward the State of Hawaii REPEAT....NO MISSILE IS HEADED TOWARD THE STATE OF HAWAII.'
A Hawaii Civil Defense official is seen above on Saturday writing instructions for dispatchers fielding calls from terrified locals
Hawaii Civil Defense startled Hawaii residents early Saturday, by sending a Civil Defense alert via cellular phones that a nuclear missile was heading towards Hawaii and to take cover
Ajit Pai, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, confirmed that an investigation will be carried out
The US Federal Communications Commission said on Saturday it was launching a full investigation into a false emergency alert that said a ballistic missile was headed for Hawaii, the chairman of the commission said.
The alerts to Hawaii cellphone users were issued at about 8.07am local time, saying 'ballistic missile threat inbound' and urging residents to seek shelter immediately. The message also appeared on Hawaii television stations, according to news reports. The alert was officially canceled about 38 minutes later.
The FCC has jurisdiction over the emergency alert system. Earlier this week, Pai said the FCC would vote at its January meeting to enhance the effectiveness of wireless emergency alerts, which have been in place since 2012.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai posted on Twitter that the FCC was launching a full investigation and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the commission must find out what went wrong.
'Emergency alerts are meant to keep us and our families safe, not to create false panic. We must investigate and we must do better,' Rosenworcel wrote on Twitter.
CNN reported Hawaiian Governor David Ige told reporters the mistake was the result of human error and someone at the state emergency management agency pushed the 'wrong button' during a shift change.
Wireless carriers do not prepare or write the alerts but they run simultaneously on all networks.
The FCC is working to better target alerts to impacted people and will vote this month on a proposal to 'more precisely target these alerts to affected communities.'
Pai is proposing that providers 'deliver these alerts to match the geographic area specified by the officials sending the alert with no more overshoot than one-tenth of a mile,' he said in a statement earlier this week.
Governor Ige confirmed as much when he spoke to CNN later in the morning.
'It was a mistake made during a standard procedure at the change over of a shift, and an employee pushed the wrong button,' he said.
The Civil Defense phone lines were consistently busy on Saturday and the Department of Defense has not responses to questions on the matter.
It is not clear yet whether the person responsible for the error will lose their job.
The Federal Communications Commission has launched an investigation into the error.
President Donald Trump was playing golf in West Palm Beach when the false missile alert went out.
The White House confirmed later in the day that Trump had been briefed on the mistake.
'The President has been briefed on the state of Hawaii's emergency management exercise. This was purely a state exercise,' said spokeswoman Lindsay Walters.
Hawaii is within the range of the latest intercontinental ballistic missiles that North Korea has been testing. It, along with Alaska, are the most vulnerable states to a threat
Kim Jong Un has test launched several intercontinental ballistic missiles in the last year, some of which have the capacity to reach Hawaii
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted 12 minutes after the first phone alert was issued to say it was a false alarm.
The state's governor David Ige quickly retweeted the post as did other lawmakers.
They vowed to get to the bottom of how such a colossal error was made.
'There is nothing more important to Hawai'i than professionalizing and fool-proofing this process,' Senator Brian Schatz tweeted.
He went on: 'What happened today is totally inexcusable.
'The whole state was terrified. There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process.'
Terrified residents later described how they packed into their garages to take shelter and sent messages to each other to say: 'I love you'.
Videos circulated of children being dropped into storm drains for shelter though those are unconfirmed.
There were also unconfirmed reports of tourists being escorted into a 'bomb shelter' at Pearl Harbour.
Senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz said the mistake was caused by 'human error'. They slammed it as being 'inexcusable' given the rising tensions between the US and North Korea
Panic and terror gripped residents and visitors in Hawaii on Saturday after authorities said there was an incoming ballistic missile only to later clarify that it was a false alarm.
Social media users posted videos, photos, and testimonials about residents hurriedly taking up shelter while thinking they were under attack.
'I was sitting in the bathtub with my children, saying our prayers,' Hawaii state representative Matt LoPresti told CNN in emotional interview after false missile alert.
One Twitter user wrote: 'My family was hiding in the garage. My mom and sister were crying. It was a false alarm, but betting a lot of people are shaken'
One Twitter user wrote: 'My family was hiding in the garage. My mom and sister were crying. It was a false alarm, but betting a lot of people are shaken.'
'Talking to loved ones in Hawaii, the reality of the situation is everyone thought they were going to die for 40-minutes,' tweeted another Twitter user.
'Let that sink in. Extremely traumatizing and please send your love to everyone there.'
Current NBA star Karl-Anthony Towns tweeted: ‘Words cannot describe the relief my family and I feel that the alarm in Hawaii was false.
‘My girlfriend was born and raised in Hawaii and with most of her family there, the panic was real.
‘We should thank god for every day no matter the struggles and tell our family we love them.’
CNN host Jake Tapper tweeted: 'So sorry for all the people in Hawaii who went through that - we know someone who's there with her family.
'Crying in closet texting goodbyes to loved ones, husband shielding their baby. Sounds traumatic. Hang in there, folks.'
Maureen McCormick tweeted: 'My family in Hawaii got a phone alert and hid in the bathroom with kids for a good 10 minutes thinking "This is going to be it."
Lorenza Ingram, a producer for CNN, told the network: 'We got alerts on our phone… we opened our sliding glass door to look out onto the beach, we saw probably 10 different families running, not walking, running back to their room.'
Another CNN producer, David Shortell, told the network: 'There was a bit of running and shouting after [the alert was received]… People were nervous.'
Shortell described 'a pretty harrowing 15 minutes' huddling in a garage with families and young children.