You’ve no doubt heard about the false alarm in Hawaii today:
For 38 harrowing minutes, residents and tourists in Hawaii were left to believe that missiles were streaming across the sky toward the Pacific island chain after an erroneous alert Saturday morning by the state’s emergency management agency.
“Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii,” warned an 8:07 a.m. message transmitted across the state’s cellphone networks. “Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”
Only after an inexplicable delay by the state agency — during which residents scrambled to seek shelter and contact relatives — was a subsequent message sent describing the missile warning as a “false alarm.”
Not satisfied with mainland newspaper accounts, I turned to our intrepid correspondent on the scene, veteran newspaperman-turned-historian Burl Burlingame, to tell us what it was like.
Initially he responded with a text that said:
We’re OK but the neighbors have resorted to cannibalism.
Journalists are conditioned to react to incipient annihilation with gallows humor, and protocol required that I respond in kind, so I said, “Perfectly understandable, under the circumstances.” Then, with patience born of decades as an editor waiting for reporters to get off their a__es and file the actual story, I waited.
Eventually, he filed his report via Facebook Messenger. It follows:
In Hawaii, at 11:45 a.m. on the first working day of every month, sirens go off all over the state. You can hear them almost everywhere. Civil defense has them to warn of incoming missiles, but mainly because we’re a seacoast state with a low land mass that can easily be hit with a tidal wave or earthquake from almost any direction. Such natural disasters aren’t iffy; it’s just a matter of when …
So we take such alerts seriously.
The alarm clock on my phone was set for 8:10 a.m. this morning, so when it made noise I dimly perceived it as my wake-up call. Was it ever! It took a few moments to focus on incoming alerts and the top one said that missiles were incoming and it was not a drill.
For a while, we’ve been getting practice alerts that are worded similarly — thanks, Trump! — although this one was most clear. But there were no sirens, no ancillary information being broadcast. Being an ex-journalist, I was pretty suspicious of a single phone alert with no backup.
I woke up the wife and told her to prepare to fight in Thunderdome after the imminent nuclear annihilation. She said OK and went back to sleep. Since she’s the night editor at the paper, I suspect she’s pretty busy this evening dealing with “I was there” stories.
There was some commotion in my neighborhood as folks were packing their cars. To go where?
I had an appointment at 10 a.m. to deliver a lecture and people were expecting me there, so I went. The electronic highway signs were already flashing MISSILE ATTACK WARNING IS AN ERROR / THERE IS NO THREAT and I mentally filed away the revelation that they are tied in with Civil Defense.
Many people were caught away from home and family. People dashed home or to churches. Tourists were rounded up off the beaches and sequestered in hotel lobbies. I expect there might be casualties from the panic.
No info yet on how this happened. It’s possible it was an online troll attack. People here are blaming Trump, but we’re expecting him to blame Hillary.
Good report. Short and to the point. And he didn’t speculate about anything he wasn’t sure about.
Gov. David Ige has now attributed the mess to a state employee’s errant push of a button. Yeah… I think the good folk of Hawaii are going to want a more complete answer than that…