False missile alert in Hawaii leaves Beatrice mom frightened

January 16, 2018 GMT

A Beatrice mother was left frightened and confused after a ballistic missile threat was sent to cellphones across Hawaii on Saturday morning.

Kathy Russell of Beatrice received a call from her son Phil, who moved to Hilo, Hawaii, nine years ago. He’d received an alert at 8:10 a.m. that said: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Phil had a stockpile of food and water, prepared for any emergency. Saturday, he filled a few more containers with water, boarded up his windows and called his mom in Nebraska.

“There’s not much you can do. There’s nowhere to go. You can just stay inside,” he said by telephone Saturday afternoon.

Hawaiian residents generally know that after an alert is issued, they have about 15 to 20 minutes before a missile from North Korea would make contact with the islands, Phil said.

He and his mom stayed on the phone, waiting for an update.

“You can’t panic, because it doesn’t do anybody any good and he probably had so many thoughts running through his mind already,” Kathy said.

In Beatrice, she flipped through TV channels for updates, and there weren’t any at first.

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency tweeted about 10 minutes after the initial alert that there was no threat, but it didn’t reach people who aren’t on Twitter. It was nearly 40 minutes after the first warning before a “revised” alert appeared on cellphones.

This time, it was an assurance that the first alert was a false alarm. Officials said the error occurred when someone hit the wrong button.

Former Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Russ Reno was visiting friends in the islands when his wife Julie received the alert.

He texted family members in Nebraska, telling them what was happening and letting them know that he loved them.

“You never know,” Reno said. He was thinking, “This is it. This is it. They were really long minutes.”

Reno and his wife were relieved once they learned it was a false alarm. They went out to breakfast with friends and carried on with their day.

“I had faith that the government was prepared for something like this to happen,” Reno said. “But I was concerned.”

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai tweeted that the agency will be conducting a full investigation into the false alarm.

“It’s ridiculous that one person could press one button and put the entire state in panic,” Phil Russell said.

After the confusion, panic and anger subsided, Russell said he and his friends drank wine and joked about all the babies there are going to be on the island in nine months.