HONOLULU — A blunder that caused more than a million people in Hawaii to fear that they were about to be struck by a nuclear missile fed skepticism Sunday about the government’s ability to keep them informed in a real emergency.
Residents and tourists alike remained rattled a day after the mistaken alert was blasted out to cellphones across the islands with a warning to seek immediate shelter and the ominous statement “This is not a drill.”
“My confidence in our so-called leaders’ ability to disseminate this vital information has certainly been tarnished,” said Patrick Day, who sprang from bed when the alert was issued Saturday morning. “I would have to think twice before acting on any future advisory.”
The erroneous warning was sent during a shift change at the state’s Emergency Management Agency when someone doing a routine test hit the live alert button, state officials said.
They tried to assure residents there would be no repeat false alarms. The agency changed protocols to require that two people send an alert and made it easier to cancel a false alarm — a process that took nearly 40 minutes.
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President Donald Trump said the federal government will “get involved” with Hawaii, but didn’t provide any additional details.
The error sparked a doomsday panic across the islands known as a laid-back paradise. Parents clutched their children, huddled in bathtubs and said prayers.
Students bolted across the University of Hawaii campus to take cover in buildings. Drivers abandoned cars on a highway and took shelter in a tunnel. Others resigned themselves to a fate they could not control and simply waited for the attack.
The 911 system for the island of Oahu was overwhelmed with more than 5,000 calls. There were no major emergencies during the false alarm, Mayor Kirk Caldwell said.
An investigation into what went wrong was underway Sunday at the Federal Communications Commission, which sets rules for wireless emergency alerts sent by local, state or federal officials to warn of the threat of hurricanes, wildfires, flash flooding and to announce searches for missing children.
The state of Hawaii “did not have reasonable safeguards or process controls in place to prevent the transmission of a false alert,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement, calling the mistake “absolutely unacceptable.”
“False alerts undermine public confidence in the alerting system and thus reduce their effectiveness during real emergencies,” he said.
Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen urged Americans not to lose faith in their government.
“I would hate for anybody not to abide by alerts and warnings coming from government systems,” Nielsen said on “Fox News Sunday.” ”They can trust government systems. We test them every day. This is a very unfortunate mistake, but these alerts are vital. Seconds and minutes can save lives.”
With mobile phones…