HONOLULU — Central Illinois residents on vacation in Hawaii were among those alarmed by a mistakenly sent push alert that warned of a ballistic missile heading straight for the state.
"Hawaii doesn’t really have fallout shelters. It’s like, OK, what are we going to do?" said Timi Kaufman, owner of Timi's Tours in Moweaqua. "So we just stayed away from the glass and gathered in the lobby of the hotel."
Her group of 25 people was among more than 100 Central Illinois residents who were on vacation in various parts of the state on Saturday when the emergency alert was sent to cellphones just before 8:10 a.m. It said: "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."
For nearly 40 minutes, it seemed like the world was about to end in Hawaii, an island paradise already jittery over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea.
In a conciliatory news conference later in the day, Hawaii officials apologized for the mistake and vowed to ensure it will never happen again.
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi said the error happened when someone hit the wrong button.
"We made a mistake," said Miyagi.
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn't reach people who aren't on the social media platform. A revised alert informing of the "false alarm" didn't reach cellphones until 38 minutes later, according to the time stamp on images people shared on social media.
‘Nothing you can do’
Ellen Woods of Bloomington is in Waikiki with her husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and said they got the alert while they were in the lobby of the Surfjack Hotel. They asked the front desk staff what they should do, she said, and they said they didn't know.
Deciding the small hotel wasn't safe, Woods and her family walked over to a nearby Courtyard Marriott, where they ran into another family and stayed with them in a parking garage stairwell.
"In the meantime, we were going on Facebook and reading tweets," she said. "The sirens weren't going off, and there were no planes in the air.
"We were near Pearl Harbor, so we figured if something had happened, jets would have scrambled or the ICBM defense system would have started. Nothing was happening."
Jennifer and John Migas of Bloomington are vacationing at Ko Olina Beach, 20 minutes outside of Honolulu. She said they were slightly dumbfounded when they first received the alert.
“We put on our shoes, grabbed our phones and went into the bathroom. We sent messages to our kids saying that we loved them but provided no details as we didn’t want to worry them,” she said. “The hotel announced that everyone should stay inside and take cover.”
In the meantime, they checked Twitter and saw that U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard announced that it had been a false alarm. They received the second text 15 minutes later, confirming the mistake.
“We now know that it takes 15-20 minutes for an (intercontinental ballistic missile) to arrive from North Korea, which must be devastating for the families that live here,” she said. The couple wasn't sure the warning was real, as there were no sirens.
Randy Wiley of Mount Zion said he was in his hotel room at Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Kona Coast of Hawaii when he and his significant other received the text alert.
He wasn’t worried.
“I was concerned for about five seconds,” he said. “And then you think about it and realistically, if there’s a ballistic missile coming at you, there is absolutely nothing you can do.”
Besides that, he said, “assuming it was coming from North Korea, I have zero confidence they could hit the broad side of a barn.”
So, he said, “I just laid back down on the bed and figured if this was really happening, it’d be a good place to bite the dust.”
Though he was calm, Wiley said he later heard that the hotel’s restaurant erupted in “mass pandemonium” after the alert because no one knew what to do. Residents in a nearby town later told him that they were primarily upset because it took so long to be notified of the mistake.
Hawaii Gov. David Ige later apologized for the "pain and confusion" caused by the alert.