An emergency alert was sent mistakenly on Saturday to Hawaii's residents warning of an imminent ballistic missile attack when an employee at the state emergency management agency pushed the "wrong button," Hawaii's governor said.
State officials and the US military's Pacific Command confirmed that there was no actual threat to the state, Reuters reports.
The mistaken alert, which triggered panic among many Hawaiians who scrambled to find shelter, stated: "EMERGENCY ALERT BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."
Governor David Ige, who apologized for the mistake, said in televised remarks that the alert was sent during a employee shift-change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. Vern Miyagi, the agency's administrator, called it "human error."
"It was a procedure that occurs at the change of shift where they go through to make sure that the system, that it's working. An employee pushed the wrong button," the Democratic governor said, adding that such shift changes occur three times a day every day of the year.
The alert, sent to mobile phones and aired on television and radio, was issued amid high international tensions over North Korea's development of ballistic nuclear weapons.
"I was awakened by the alert like everyone else here in the state of Hawaii," Ige said. "It was unfortunate and regrettable. We will be looking at how we can improve the procedures so it doesn't happen again."
Miyagi said: "It was an inadvertent mistake. The change of shift is about three people. That should have been caught... It should not have happened."
The US Federal Communications Commission, which has jurisdiction over the emergency alert system, has announced it is initiating a full investigation.
Stacey Bow, 56, of Honolulu, said she was awakened to the emergency alert on her smartphone. She woke her 16-year-old daughter with the news: "She became hysterical, crying, you know, just lost it."
Bow said of the person responsible for issuing the alert: "I imagine that person is clearing out their desk right now. You don't get a do-over for something like that."