Hawaii County used one of its two public notification systems to alert residents that the Jan. 13 missile warning was false.
The programs issue emergency messages via text and email to those who sign up for the service.
County Civil Defense, which uses a program known as Blackboard, sent messages at 8:35 a.m. stating there was no attack, 28 minutes after the state issued the false alert. That followed a radio message released at 8:24 a.m.
But the Police Department’s notification service, known as Nixle, wasn’t activated during the incident, Chief Paul Ferreira acknowledged to the Tribune-Herald on Tuesday, though dispatch was informing panicked callers the warning was false within minutes.
Ferreira said he requested a message be sent through the notification system to alert the public there was no missile attack. He said he sent the request to his commanders via text, which they didn’t receive, at least not in time. Ferreira said that might have been because of jammed phone lines.
“Nobody got my text, with the system being down,” he said. “That’s something we will look at in the future.”
Ferreira said police dispatch was told the alert was false at 8:10 or 8:11 a.m. and began notifying panicked callers.
“As soon as we got the (notification) we put it out to our district stations,” he said. “Some units in Puna, to my understanding, went out on loud speaker.”
The false alert was blasted to cellphones and broadcast stations throughout the state at 8:07 a.m., when a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee clicked the wrong button on a computer screen. The cellphone message said a ballistic missile was incoming and that this was not a drill, spreading panic throughout Hawaii.
The state agency wouldn’t issue another cellphone alert clarifying the first message was false until 8:45 a.m.
Ferreira told a County Council committee Tuesday that dispatch fielded 1,119 calls related to the false warning, including 550 before 8:45 a.m. Ferreira told council members that dozens of people stopped at police stations around the island seeking shelter during the incident.
He said patrol officers didn’t report any major incidents as a result of the warning.
“We did, however, have individuals, mostly tourists, come to our stations seeking information or shelter,” Ferreira said.
Kanani Aton, county Civil Defense spokeswoman, said 10,920 people are signed up for the agency’s text alerts, while another 8,971 receive email messages. The message was delivered to 81 percent of email recipients and 90 percent of those signed up for texts, she said.
Aton said Civil Defense issued the radio message first because that’s been the agency’s priority.
At the Public Safety and Mass Transit Committee meeting, council members noted they were left in the dark just as much as the public. Some said they didn’t receive the state alerts, but all received numerous calls from worried constituents.
Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha said he didn’t receive the text alert and was notified by someone who called him. He said he tried to call county Civil Defense to get information but couldn’t get through.
“All I saw was red letters blaring across the TV for the next 15 to 20 minutes saying, ‘This is not a drill. This is not a drill,’” Kanuha said.
“I had no clue what to do. I just told everyone to stay put.”
Several council members said they’d like to be clued in faster so they can help inform their district residents.
Residents can sign up for Nixle and Blackboard through the Civil Defense website at www.hawaiicounty.gov/civil-defense.
Aton said Civil Defense staff can manually input people’s information if they have trouble with the site. That phone number is 935-0031.
Civil Defense also is promoting an interview on Na Leo TV that discussed preparation for a nuclear attack. That can be viewed at http://naleo.tv.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.