KAILUA-KONA — Despite the ballistic missile threat turning out to be nothing more than a false alarm, the Kealakehe Police Station and at least two fire stations in West Hawaii were visited by people seeking shelter and wondering what to do during the perceived crisis.
At 8:07 a.m., an emergency alert was sent to cellphones across the state. The message stated: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
At 8:45 a.m., a second alert was pushed out to phones, which stated: “There is no missile threat or danger to the state of Hawaii. Repeat. False alarm.”
However, within those 38 minutes, many West Hawaii residents believed the threat credible and sought out police and fire, looking for safety and guidance.
“It’s definitely not your ordinary morning,” said Lt. Scott Kurashige at the Kealakehe Police Station Saturday morning.
Kurashige was working the desk at the station when the initial emergency alert came through. He estimated about 40 to 50 people came into the lobby.
“People seemed scared, definitely,” Kurashige said. “They were just looking for shelter.”
At the time, Kurashige said, officers were still trying to determine if the threat was real. Eventually, officers working in the field were instructed to continue with their normal duties until more information was obtained.
Along with a lobby full of people, the lieutenant said, the phones were ringing.
“It was one call after another,” Kurashige said of the people phoning in wanted to know what to do.
Hawaii Fire Battalion Chief Ian Smith was en route to his office at the Waikoloa Fire Station when he got the alert. The first thing did was call his boss.
Smith said he was directed to go to the closest fire station and shelter in place. Before he could reach a station, it was confirmed the missile threat was a false alarm.
Smith said he is aware of West Hawaii residents showing up at the Kailua and Keauhou fire stations seeking shelter and guidance in the event.
According to firefighters at the Keauhou station, they assisted four people with either information or shelter. At the Kailua station, firefighters assisted five adults and five children.
Maj. Robert Wagner said when an alert like that goes off there’s no time for protocol.
“It’s to notify people,” Wagner said. “We can’t do anything about a nuclear attack, for sure.”
It’s such a short notice that people are told to seek shelter.
“We react to the disaster after that,” Wagner said.
Wagner said dispatchers reported receiving more than 700 calls islandwide before the missile threat was determined to be a false alarm.
Staff at the Kona Community Hospital reacted quickly and cautiously when the warning first came out. Hospital Spokeswoman Judy Donovan said the hospital supervisor started triage – gathering information about patients and medical supplies.
“The call was to wait and find out if it was real,” Donovan said. “In the meantime, they continued triage.”
While staff was prepping, people showed up at the hospital seeking shelter. They were sent to the cafeteria.
According to Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the statewide emergency notification was accidentally activated by an employee.
Gov. David Ige apologized repeatedly to the state and said the false alarm was a terrible thing to happen.
“I know firsthand how today’s false alarm affected all of us here in Hawaii, and I am sorry for the pain and confusion it caused,” he said. “I, too, am extremely upset about this and am doing everything I can do to immediately improve our emergency management systems, procedures and staffing.”