On Saturday, a good chunk of the 1.4 million people living in the state of Hawaii, along with a couple hundred thousand travelers, thought they were about to die. Others were not sure what to think. Many were confused.
The Aloha State went from “paradise to panic” in a matter of moments, according to CNN, after an incoming missile alert was sent out, suggesting to the island populace that North Korea’s Kim Jong-un had finally decided to test the theory of mutually assured destruction.
"BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL," was the message blasted across cell phone screens.
24-year-old Jocelyn Azbell shared what went through her head as she rushed into the basement of her Maui hotel.
"You're thinking, 'Oh my gosh, are we going to die? Is it really a missile [headed] our way, or is it just a test?' We really didn't know," she explained. “People are crying and people obviously were super scared.”
State representative Matt LoPresti huddled in a bathtub with his kids, shielding them while they said their prayers.
“We took it as seriously as a heart attack,” he recalled, according to Business Insider.
An MSNBC producer said a friend texted her the following message: "It was mass chaos people getting out of cars and running and looking at the sky. Other cousin was in the airport and people were sobbing."
All over Hawaii, people hid under tables, sheltered themselves inside of buildings, or ran into some of the few basements built into the rocky, volcanic soil. One family reportedly hid in a storm drain. Many people weren’t sure what to do and were making panicked Google searches to find out how to survive a nuclear strike.
The threat of an attack has been looming over the tropical archipelago for months now, and drills have become a part of life. But many Americans are not convinced the North Korean dictator would actually attack the U.S., especially after President Trump assured him that he would “totally destroy” the hermit kingdom in response. That’s why Saturday morning’s alert was a surprise to so many.
So how exactly did it happen? According to the Washington Post, a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee was instructed to test the alert system. He had two options to choose from on a drop-down menu on his computer: “Test missile alert” and “Missile alert.”
Guess which one he accidentally clicked on. In addition to sending out the cell phone alert, people watching TV at the time also saw a message scrolling across the bottom of the screen that read, “If you are indoors, stay indoors. 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 in a building or lay on the floor.”
As people were huddling in the best shelters they could find, sending their final goodbyes to loved ones, and waiting for the end to come, it took a full 38 minutes for a widespread alert to be sent out informing them that the incoming missile strike was nonexistent.
In response, the agency is conducting a deep investigation and has already put a missile alert cancellation button in place as well as the means to immediately send out a “false alarm” message to everyone. Two people, instead of one, will also be required in order to initiate a test. Not surprisingly, Saturday’s false alarm generated a backlash of anger and ridicule.
“I'm extremely angry right now," reacted LoPresti. "Why does it take 38 minutes for us to get a false alarm notice? … That's completely unacceptable.”
One dad reportedly took the whole thing in stride and told his US Navy son over text messages what he did when his son asked how he reacted, according to the UK’s The Independent.
What do you think about all of this? In other news, a U.S. congresswoman is refusing to attend Trump’s State of the Union address, saying it’d be an embarrassment to be seen with him.