Hawaii in Panic: False Alarm Raises Questions Regarding Missile Defense

Photo Courtesy: Reuters

Vanessa Burkett/Correspondent

There is nothing more embarrassing than trying to send a text and autocorrect changing your entire meaning. What you think you sent versus what got delivered can be either a hilarious misunderstanding or damaging if left uncorrected.  Our smartphones believe they are smarter than they are and it happens to the best of us.

Unfortunately for Hawaii, it was more than just the “wrong button” mistake. Saturday morning, Hawaiian visitors and residents awoke to this Civil Defense Emergency Warning: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

To make matters worse, the message went uncorrected for 38-minutes, leaving many to believe the threat was imminent. Missile threats are not something to take lightly, between the events at Pearl Harbor and given the recent risk of missile attacks from North Korea. The level of panic Hawaii experienced during that time left them furious to learn that it was not only a mistake, but Hawaiian Governor David Ige (D) could not provide a simple reason for the over 30-minute delay.

Fred Barbash, an author for the Washington Post, pointed out that “Various officials and news organizations beat the state to the ‘false alarm’ message using Twitter and other social media.” This was due to the surge of videos and pictures of people running for shelter, raiding stores and attempting to find shelter. AFP News Agency compiled these videos onto social media, receiving more than 49,000 views that day.  Shortly after, social media quickly became overpopulated with hilarious memes that are still floating around a few days later.

Though it was taken lightly on social media, this significant error was caused due to the poor design of a drop-down menu. It sounds like a simple mistake; however, they noted that it was challenging to differentiate between the two since the confirmation question was the same for both. State officials have fixed the error by making a clear button labeled “BMD Drill” on the top of the page, and a few items below is the actual missile warning. Unlike before,  the “test alarm” and “actual alarm” were right below another. They also require a second person to verify the test once the selection is chosen, to ensure better control of the test alarms.

It still raises questions about what Hawaii would do if this were an actual alarm. Ige addressed Washington Monday stating, “I am extremely worried that we are going to lose one more American cities in the next decade or two if we do not improve our defense capabilities. The loss of life would be almost unbearable.”

This statement caused the focus to shift from just being a human error to the cold realization that a missile attack on Hawaii would be catastrophic. Fox News Opinion writer Newt Gingrich, addresses this and explains that the systems currently in place consist of “shooting a bullet with a bullet.” The amount of resources needed to fight against a missile threat successfully is almost non-existent. Developing a missile defense plan is no walk in the park, but since the incident and reactions of Hawaii have become known, a weakness in missile defense could leave the state of Hawaii in imminent danger.