911 calls capture confusion when Hawaii false missile alert went out

They're 911 calls that cover the spectrum of emotion.Fear: "The whole family, all scared, you know?"Dis...

Posted: Mar 24, 2018 4:04 PM
Updated: Mar 24, 2018 4:04 PM

They're 911 calls that cover the spectrum of emotion.

Fear: "The whole family, all scared, you know?"

Disbelief: "Was that a typo? A really, really bad typo?"

Anger: "Somebody needs to get their a-- whooped!"

The calls were placed to the Honolulu Police Department on January 13 -- the morning a phone text alert was mistakenly sent out, warning of an incoming ballistic missile threat to Hawaii.

"Seek immediate shelter," it read, injecting panic into more than a million Hawaiians and tourists with its ominous tag line. "This is not a drill."

Honolulu police this week released 24 calls at the request of local media, calling them representative of 2,000-plus calls placed to dispatchers at the height of the confusion. CNN affiliate KHON posted the calls on its website.

The state had already been on edge on the day of confusion, having undergone various missile drills after learning North Korea possessed a long-range missile that could reach Hawaii.

After the alert went out at 8:07 a.m. local time, police dispatchers -- who were not responsible for the mistake -- were just as confused as the callers and were relying on the media for information.

Several times, callers were instructed to watch CNN.

"At this time, we're trying to see on the news, like CNN, cause we just got the message, too, and we don't have any answers," a dispatcher told one caller two minutes after the alert went out.

"I don't own a TV, what should I do?" the woman replied.

"OK, if anything... do you have radio access?" the dispatcher asked.

"I don't know, no I don't," she said, sounding disoriented with confusion. "I have just Internet. Should I go to a neighbor?"

"Can you please? Cause we don't have the answer either because we just got the message too, just now, I'm sorry," the dispatcher said.

By 8:15 a.m. -- eight minutes after the alert -- police dispatchers were finally warned of the mistake, which occurred when a state employee hit the wrong button during a planned drill.

But it would be 30 minutes after that before the public would get that same information declaring a false alarm. In that time, many callers were still in the dark, hearing from dispatchers about the mistake for the first time.

Caller: "My hotel is under alert, is that true?"

Dispatcher: "OK, that information is wrong. The information is wrong. That was a mistake. There is no danger."

"Yeah, they're idiots," another caller said, after being told of the state's error.

Even after the public received its second alert -- the "all clear" at 8:45 a.m -- many 911 callers still appeared confused and afraid. Others simply vented in anger.

Caller: "North Korea could have landed their missiles in 20 minutes, everybody knows that!

Dispatcher: "I'm sorry, sir. I am so sorry..."

Caller: "Well they need to get the system up and running much better than it is so people are not left hanging, not knowing what to do!"

Dispatcher: "We were in the dark, too. I'm so sorry."

Caller: "911 should get tied to the televisions... nobody in the government of Hawaii is listening to this situation to make something happen! They're giving it mouth service, that's all, mouth service!"

The calls released by police fall into a 61-minute time span from that morning, during which operators were chastised ("That's not an answer, there has to be an answer as to what happened!"), served as counselors and even sounding boards for a wary public.

Caller: "It's not fun, you know, it's not fun. They got to find out who did that, you know?

Dispatcher: "Yes, they do. They do... they're going to find out."

Caller: "Go find out and go catch them, you know? Don't let them go."

The state employee who pushed the wrong button during the drill was eventually fired. According to an investigating officer, he claimed not to know it was an exercise, even though five other employees in the room reported hearing "exercise, exercise, exercise."

Even as chaos was unfolding that morning in the police dispatch center, one operator managed to sum up the event while giving audience to a man who was unsure where to take shelter.

"It was like a wake-up call," she said.

"A wake-up call," the man agreed.

"Yeah, because what if it was real, right?" the dispatcher said.

New York Coronavirus Cases

County data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 402263

Reported Deaths: 32395
CountyConfirmedDeaths
New York City21930123323
Nassau423542190
Suffolk421121993
Westchester353271435
Rockland13719670
Orange10841484
Erie7766646
Dutchess4280152
Monroe4200277
Onondaga3142191
Albany2225121
Ulster186288
Oneida1830104
Sullivan146548
Putnam136563
Niagara134294
Schenectady86837
Broome82760
Rensselaer61730
Saratoga61017
Columbia48737
Madison37517
Ontario30233
Orleans28754
Warren28033
Steuben27641
Greene26618
Fulton26524
Genesee2505
Washington24914
St. Lawrence2312
Oswego2223
Wayne2093
Herkimer1934
Tompkins1860
Chautauqua1717
Chenango1696
Tioga16124
Chemung1482
Livingston1478
Cattaraugus1386
Montgomery1334
Cayuga1262
Clinton1094
Wyoming1025
Jefferson990
Delaware924
Otsego895
Seneca740
Allegany661
Schoharie620
Cortland590
Essex510
Yates486
Franklin360
Lewis310
Schuyler150
Hamilton60
Unassigned00
Utica
Few Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 79° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 71°
Oneonta
Clear
76° wxIcon
Hi: 77° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 76°
Herkimer
Few Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 71°
Thendara
Few Clouds
71° wxIcon
Hi: 72° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 71°
WKTV Radar
WKTV Temperatures
WKTV Severe Weather
Click here to learn more about A Healthier Mohawk Valley
Saluting Those Who Are Proud 2 Serve
Senior Send-Off brought to you by Herkimer College
Menu 2 Go list of takeout dinners & fish fries
WKTV Golf Card - Under 150 left