Hawaii Missile Alert: Sorry. False Alarm.


A alert on an iPhone warning Hawaiian citizens about an inbound ballistic missile. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Matthew Sidewater

On January 13, Hawaii’s citizens were sent emergency alerts telling them “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” according to The Washington Post. It turned out that this was a mistake. A Hawaiian government employee accidentally sent out a “Missile Alert” instead of a “Test Missile Alert,” thereby informing the public of an impending ballistic missile that did not exist. It took 38 minutes for the Hawaiian government to notify the public that the missile warning was invalid. The news of this mistake spread like wildfire across the United States, but has it reached the students at The Weber School?

Out of 14 students surveyed (grades ranging from freshmen to juniors), 11 students had heard news of the false alarm. However, only four out of 12 who responded to follow up questions knew the reason for the alert. After the students were informed of why the situation occurred and asked what could be done to prevent it in the future, students gave similar strategies. One of these strategies is to take better safety precautions in regard to clicking important buttons.

Freshman Amir Dressler suggested creating “a two or three step process to set up the warning,” also stating “If they [government employees] press the wrong button now, what if it was actually a real missile and they press the test button?” Jenna Lief also gave an insightful comment, stating “It is such a little thing to mess up, but it causes so much havoc,” and “Be careful of what you press.”

When asked what could help prevent this type of accident in the future, students still suggested having more safety precautions. Freshman Jordan Liban suggested creating an “are you sure button” for government employees to press before warning messages are broadcast to American citizens. Jordan forgave the employee who made this mistake, explaining “People are people, but I still think it was really stupid.”

Junior Michael Kobrinsky explained the severity of the issue in terms that are relatable to students, saying that “You [government employees] have to be extra careful when dealing with federal or state issues. It’s kind of like writing an email to a teacher. If the teacher had an optional test and a student wrote that they are not going to take the test when they are actually going to, then that’s a huge mistake.”

A message from the government confirming the invalidity of the previous message was sent 38 minutes later. Most students were baffled by this when asked. Jordan Liban stated, “I think, in a situation like that, it would be hard to get information out because people would be panicking. I also don’t know how easy it is to send a notification on a phone, but I don’t think it would take 38 minutes.”

Another student, Elye Robinovitz stated “the government didn’t communicate that message well to the people who needed to know. It can be prevented in the future by having a more clear way to transfer information.” One student, freshman Bryan Kopkin defended the government, saying “Sometimes things like that will happen and the government will not respond till a while after it happens. Sometimes for days or weeks.”

In the future, Hawaii’s state government, as well as the governments of other states, need to be more cautious of how they notify their citizens of crises, and should find faster ways to communicate with them. Hopefully, the United States of America are up to the task.