White House Says False Ballistic Missile Threat Was \'purely A State Exercise\' In Hawaii

Hawaiians were thrown into a panic Saturday morning after an emergency alert was sent warning of a ballistic missile threat. But emergency officials took at least 20 minutes to relay it was a false alarm, clarifying later that it was caused when someone pushed the wrong button.

The lapse led to an uproar over how such an error — with potentially dangerous consequences — could occur during a time of high international tensions with North Korea.

An alert in all caps was first sent to cellphones across the archipelago shortly after 8 a.m. local time (1 p.m. ET), saying, "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."

At 8:20 a.m., the state's Emergency Management Agency followed up in a tweet: "NO missile threat to Hawaii." A similar alert was sent to cellphones about 38 minutes after the first.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who also tweeted "there is no incoming missile to Hawaii," questioned how the mistake happened and why it took so long before it was corrected, adding that it triggered feelings of terror unnecessarily in a state with more than 1.4 million people.

Gabbard told MSNBC that "what my family went through and what so many families in Hawaii just went through is a true realization that they have 15 minutes to seek some form of shelter or else they're dead — gone."

A spokeswoman for Hawaii Gov. David Ige said human error was to blame and that somebody pressed the wrong message to be sent.

Two U.S. military officials told NBC News that there was no indication the military initiated the alert or provided information that prompted such a message to be delivered.

A White House official said President Donald Trump was briefed on the incident, and that it was "purely a state exercise" by Hawaii.

The city and county of Honolulu and U.S. Pacific Command put out statements calling the warning an "error."

"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," said Cdr. Dave Benham, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Command.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, blasted the mistake as "totally inexcusable" and told MSNBC what happened was "an abomination."

"We're looking for some quick and aggressive accountability … we need an emergency notification system we can rely on 100 percent of the time," Schatz said.

The incident sent government officials scrambling Saturday to get to the bottom of the failure.

A duty officer at the North American Aerospace Defense Command said the agency was still working to confirm whether the alert was accidental or potentially part of a hack.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige tweeted that he was meeting with the state's Department of Defense and the Emergency Management to look at ways "to prevent it from happening again."

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, said the agency would launch an investigation.

Sandra Stephenson, an Oahu resident, told MSNBC that she received the alert on her cellphone and immediately began calling neighbors to verify if it was real.

Stephenson said a neighbor, who is a fireman, told her the message was not a false alarm and advised her to go inside and close the windows. It was only later, when she contacted her daughter on the mainland, that Stephenson said she learned the truth.

She wasn't sure what she would have done if the alert had been real.

"There is no recourse," she said, adding that her house is near the water and it's surrounded by windows. "To me, there is no recourse."

Local television featured an emergency alert message interrupting programming, telling viewers the warning was in effect at 8:07 a.m. until 6:07 p.m.

The unintended alert comes after Hawaiian officials in November said they were reinstating air raid warning sirens because of rising tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

The isolated country has been conducting several ballistic missile tests in recent months and five nuclear tests since 2006 — a defiant stance that has led Trump to ratchet up the rhetoric.

The regime of Kim Jong Un fired its first intercontinental ballistic missile during a test last July, and in August announced it was "seriously reviewing" a plan to strike near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam with missiles.

Kim warned last week that "a nuclear button is always on my desk" and the "entire United States is within range of our nuclear weapons" — stoking a response from Trump

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