Hawaiian Missile Mishap and the Threat of Nuclear War


Anna Goellner, Staff Writer

At 8:10 a.m. on Saturday, January 13, an emergency alert warning of an incoming missile strike was received across Hawaii. Citizens and vacationers alike scrambled for cover in a panic until 40 minutes later when it was discovered that the warning was a false alarm. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency claims that during a drill, a ballistic missile alert template was “accidentally” released to the public after a slip-up in performance. Governor David Y. Iges apologized for the incident, saying, “What happened today was totally unacceptable…I am sorry for that pain and confusion that anyone might have experienced.”


But what exactly happened?


Speculators are trying to convince people that it was foreign hacking or a government social experiment. However interesting these theories are, government officials blame the event on human error.


“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” rang across thousands of phones, radios and televisions. Some areas of Hawaii had sirens wailing as people ran for cover, from tour groups being ushered into bunkers in the mountains to local homeowners hiding in their bathtubs. People were stricken with horror, believing that their lives were truly about to end. Pattie Jo Bach, a friend of Forsyth County residents, was vacationing with her husband when the alert popped up on her phone, and she noted that the news, both national and local Hawaiian channels, were not discussing what seemed like a massive attack on the country. Soon after, officials announced that the emergency alert was a false alarm.


Hawaii had been undergoing nuclear attack drills following the growing threat of nuclear warfare between Trump and North Korea. The Hawaiian EMA consistently performed interior drills, but in this instance, the template for the public announcement was accidentally released beyond EMA workers. Employees responsible for “pressing the wrong button,” as the New York Times put it, were fired due to the unwarranted terror that the Hawaiian people suffered. The EMA has now implemented a new system that has added multiple steps to publically send an emergency alert that requires conscious intentions, preventing another accident.


The Hawaiian missile false alarm was a traumatic event for thousands of American citizens, and many older generations were reminded of the fear during the Cold War. People are both on edge over the government and how the “unrealistic” threat of nuclear war is now closer than we thought.


Screenshot of Emergency Announcement sent across Hawaii. Credits to https://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/660/cpsprodpb/8258/production/_99586333_missle.jpg