Missile attack message

Maui newspaper staff captures people’s reactions to false alarm warning

Soccer coach Chazz Kaaihue takes a call on his cellphone next to daughters Leia, left, and Hiilei on Saturday morning at Keopuolani Park in Maui, Hawaii. The false alarm of a missile attack triggered panic for parents and children earlier at a soccer game at the Kahului Community Center. Photo courtesy The Maui News/Chris Sugidono photo. Submitted Photo

MAUI, Hawaii – Lee Imada and his wife were at home when an emergency alarm sounded on their phones Saturday morning with the words: “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediately shelter. This is not a drill.”

Imada is managing editor of the Maui News, a nearly 118-year-old daily newspaper in Wailuku, a county seat on the island of Maui, Hawaii,. The Maui News is a sister newspaper of the Minot Daily News and both are part of The Ogden Newspapers.

Imada said their phones “blew up” with the message of an incoming ballistic missile attack, a message sent to all the main islands.

Imada, who has been with the Maui News for 37 years, thought the emergency alarm might not be real.“Personally, when I saw that I thought this can’t be true,” he said.

Immediately, he called Rod Antone at the Maui County Communications Office. Antone was checking on the alert but told Imada to consider it as real.

Submitted Photo This alert was blasted to cellphones statewide in Hawaii, sending frightened residents and visitors scrambling for cover Saturday morning. Photo courtesy The Maui News/Matthew Thayer.

Checking national and local TV, nothing was being released about an emergency alarm, Imada said.“It was rather unusual not to have anything,” he said.

“Five or 10 minutes later he (Antone) called back and said it was not real,” Imada said. As soon as he received that information, Imada, working from home, posted on the newspaper’s website that the alarm was not real.

But for many people not on social media it took about 38 minutes before they received official information that the alarm was a mistake.

When the emergency alarm went out it triggered fear and panic across the islands.

Imada said it was Saturday morning so a number of sports events – i.e. soccer, swim meets, canoe padding – were going on. He sent a reporter who lives near the soccer field to talk to parents about what happened. People there had panicked – screaming and running – when the alarm went out.

Staff members checked at other sports events, stores and other locations to get reactions from people or shoot photos. along with checking social media for reports.

Imada said they put together all of their information for an extensive story. Here’s the link to the story in The Maui News: www.mauinews.com/news/local-news/2018/01/false-alarm/.

If there was good coming out of the false alarm, Imada said, “It gave us a chance to shakedown the (emergency) system.”