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Hawaii receives alert warning of incoming ballistic missile that turns out to be false alarm

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A screen shot of the alert that popped up on phones in Hawaii on Saturday. (Twitter image)

Hawaiians received a startling emergency alert on mobile devices and across televisions on Saturday morning warning that a ballistic missile was headed toward the state. But officials soon confirmed that it was a false alarm.

Twitter was a mix of panic and confusion and ultimately relief and then outrage when it was revealed that the threat was not real, and perhaps caused by human error.

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard tweeted confirmation that there was not a missile headed toward her island state. She included a screen grab of the false alarm.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency also tweeted that there was no threat.

The New York Times received an emailed statement from Cmdr. David Benham, a spokesman for the United States Pacific Command: “USPACOM has detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii. Earlier message was sent in error. State of Hawaii will send out a correction message as soon as possible.”

The Washington Post reported that an additional alert was sent at 8:45 a.m. local time to residents advising them that the first alert was a mistake.

“There is no missile threat or danger to the State of Hawaii. Repeat. False Alarm,” the Post said screen shots revealed.

GeekWire space and science editor Alan Boyle spent the previous week in Hawaii, but was back in Bellevue, Wash., on Saturday morning. He received word from a friend whom he had been traveling with who was still on Maui.

“You all escaped this morning’s drama,” Lori Hoots, of Whidbey Island, Wash., told Boyle. “At breakfast everyone got an emergency alert with sirens that we had less than 10 minutes to seek shelter because a ballistic missile has been launched at Hawaii. It started with ‘this is not a drill.’ Hotel staff didn’t know what to do.”

“One guy said he saw it on TV and hurried his family of six to somewhere,” Hoots added. “I asked a managerial type near the lobby where we should go and he said we could all go to the banquet hall he was in. At least 20 minutes later we got a text that it was only a drill. The hotel has no procedures or underground shelter. Last fall, Hawaii started having drills, but no staff told us this.”

A video of a television soccer match showed what the alert looked and sounded like scrolling across the screen.

Hoots, who flies back to Seattle tonight with her husband John, gave Boyle an idea of what the scene looked like later in the morning.

“Lots of people wandering around in deep thought, as in, “Am I ready?”

The threat of attack from North Korea, and debate about whether the country has the ability to reach Hawaii or the mainland West Coast with a nuclear-armed warhead, has been an ongoing one as tensions have risen between the United States and that country.

A CNN producer in Hawaii, describing Saturday’s scene, said that when the threat still appeared to be real he asked a member of the military whom he was standing near, “What do we do next?”

The person told him, “The next thing we do is go to war.”

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