Panic spread through the islands as terrified residents rushed to find shelter from a ballistic missile, which never was, allegedly heading towards the archipelago.
Reports tell of islanders making desperate attempts to try and contact loves ones and families trying to reassure crying children as many believed they were spending their last moments alive.
But there never was a ballistic missile and relief quickly turned to fury as Hawaiian were told the false alert had been triggered by an employee of the Hawaii Emergency Management who hit “the wrong button”.
The false alert
At 8.07am local time on Saturday morning, Hawaiian residents received an all-caps message on their mobile phones, which read: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek Immediate Shelter. This is not a drill.”
Panic set in and people scrambled to take shelter wherever they could. One resident posted video footage of parents lifting children into storm drains.
Meredyth Gilmore, a school teacher who moved to Hawaii less than a week ago with her family from Virginia, told The Independent she had ran to a shelter to find that it was locked and eventually found refuge in part of a hotel.
Ms Gilmore, whose son is aged 17-months-old, described scenes of confusion with people running back and forth, trying to find out whether the warning was genuine.
“People were not screaming. Mums were trying to stay calm. The most heartbreaking thing was seeing these little kids with tears running down their faces. Parents were just trying to hold it together for their kids,” she said.
Many people took to social media as they were waiting in fear for any piece of information and stories emerged of people trying to contact their loved ones, rushing to shelter and trying to protect their children.
Video recorded from the University of Hawaii showed crowds of people running in panic after the warning was sent out.
But 38 minutes later, people received a second mobile alert telling them there was no missile.
Shortly after 8am local time, a usual shift change took place at the Emergency Management Agency (EMA), authorities said.
At the start of each shift, the team carries out a routine internal test that involves the Emergency Alert System and the Wireless Emergency Alert.
Administrator Vern Miyagi later told a press conference that one of the employees had pushed “the wrong button” effectively sending a real alert for a ballistic missile, rather than initiating the intended internal test.
The alert was sent to people’s mobile phones as well as television and radio channels.
Within minutes, the US Pacific Command was able to verify that there was no missile launch and the EMA cancelled the alert to those mobile phones who had not yet received the message.
Hawaii EMA’s sent out a message on its Twitter and Facebook channels about 10 minutes after the initial alert saying “NO missile threat to Hawaii”. But the message didn’t reach Hawaiians who are not on social media platforms and many were still waiting in shelters for information.
Hawaii Governor David Ige retweeted the message to spread the word but many people remained in the dark as to what was happening.
After 38 minutes of panic, the EMA received authorisation to send out a second alert to people’s mobile phones saying the incident was “a false alarm” and confirming “there is no missile threat to Hawaii”.
Apologies and what happens next?
Hawaiian officials have repeatedly apologised for “the human error” which caused widespread chaos.
Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi took responsibility for the incident and said “we made a mistake”.
The White House said president Donald Trump was briefed on the false alert at his private club in Florida. White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said it “was purely a state exercise.” Trump is yet to issue a public response to the incident.
House Speaker Scott Saiki said the system Hawaii residents have been told to rely on failed miserably and denounced the half-hour period it took for EMA officials to issue a correction.
“Clearly, government agencies are not prepared and lack the capacity to deal with emergency situations,” he said in a statement.
Governor Ige also said he was “sorry for the pain and confusion” the false alarm caused. In a statement, he said: “I know first-hand how today’s false alarm affected all of us here in Hawaii, and I am sorry for the pain and confusion it caused. I, too, am extremely upset about this and am doing everything I can do to immediately improve our emergency management systems, procedures and staffing.”
The EMA has now suspended all future drills until a full analysis of the events is completed. A formal preliminary report of findings and corrective actions is due to be issued next week.
The Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai said on social media that the commission would launch a full investigation into the incident.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel added the commission had to find out what went wrong. Writing on Twitter, she said: “Emergency alerts are meant to keep us and our families safe, not to create false panic. We must investigate and we must do better.”