Confusion, relief, anger in 911 calls during missile scare

Confusion, relief, anger in 911 calls during missile scare Photo: AP

March 22, 2018 07:21 PM

HONOLULU (AP) — "Is that missile alert for real?"

"Is a missile coming?"

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"Is there even a shelter here on the island?"

"Who in the world would do such a thing?"

Confused callers barraged 911 dispatchers after Hawaii mistakenly sent a blast to cellphones and airwaves warning about an incoming ballistic missile earlier this year.

At the request of media organizations, the Honolulu Police Department on Wednesday released a representative sample of 24 of the some 2,000 911 calls about the missile alert on January 13 after 8:07 a.m., when a state worker sent the message in error.

Some callers sounded confused and then relieved to hear there was no danger. "Everything is fine. It's a false alarm," a dispatcher told a woman who called asking if a missile was coming. "Oh thank God," the woman said before hanging up.

"It'd be safe to say that our communications personnel were aware that it was a false alert within 10 minutes," said department spokeswoman Michelle Yu. But she didn't have any information about what dispatchers were instructed to tell callers about the mistake.

"Just ignore it. It was a mistake," said one dispatcher.

During earlier calls, dispatchers instructed callers to tune in to television and radio for more information.

"I don't own a TV, what should I do," a woman asked during a call at 8:09 a.m. "We don't have the answer either," the dispatcher said. "We're getting swamped with calls."

Some callers were outraged. "Who in the world would do such a thing?" one caller asked at 8:46 a.m. "You've got to find out who did that," another caller said.

The employee who sent the alert has said he didn't hear the word "exercise" spoken during a drill and thought the threat was real. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has since fired him.

"I'm very, very angry, very upset," said a man who called 911 at 8:48 a.m. "Sorry, I understand and we have inundated calls," the dispatcher replied, offering to send an officer to him. He declined and apologized.

A man who called at 8:26 a.m. said suggested someone deserved a beating for the mistake. "Everyone is on edge now," he said.

Credits

By JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER

(Copyright 2018 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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