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Washington woman recounts Hawaiian missile scare

A screen capture from a Twitter account showing a missile warning for Hawaii, U.S., January 13, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Courtesy of TWITTER @valeriebeyers/via REUTERS
A screen capture from a Twitter account showing a missile warning for Hawaii, U.S., January 13, 2018 in this picture obtained from social media. Courtesy of TWITTER @valeriebeyers/via REUTERS

WASHINGTON — While enjoying an idyllic vacation with her husband Mark in the tropical paradise of Maui, Hawaii, Shawn Loy never once thought she would be come part of a national event, until her phone went off as she was preparing to go snorkeling.

The couple had traveled to Hawaii to finish Loy’s quest of running marathons in all 50 states. The day before she was scheduled to be part of the Maui Oceanfront Marathon, Jan. 13, she hoped to get some snorkeling in the aqua blue waters. After finding a beach they planned to use to enter the ocean, they were interrupted when their phones sounded a warning alarm. The couple couldn’t believe their eyes when they looked at the screens, which read “ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. this is not a drill.”

“We were wondering if this was real,” Loy said. “We saw people walking or running. Everyone seemed to stop at the same time. We were all looking at our phones. We were all wondering if this was really happening.”

The false ballistic missile alert was issued via the Emergency Alert System and Commercial Mobile Alert System over television, radio, and cellphones in Hawaii.

They made their way back to the condo they were staying at, all the while trying to find more information. Loy said the TV signal in the condo wasn’t working at the time and they weren’t able to find any more information.

As they were searching for more information, Mark began calling their children. Loy said he was telling them where the important paperwork was as well as other pertinent information.

“We didn’t know what was happening,” Loy said. “We didn’t want something to happen and not have contact with them, but we didn’t want to scare them either. I just put it as we didn’t have all the information and this was just in case something happens.”

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A second message describing the first message as a “false alarm” was issued 38 minutes later.

On the news, Loy saw that it had been an accident that occurred during a test. She said the message that the alert had been made in error had gone out before the alert on the emergency channel, however the Loys did not have and friends from Hawaii on Facebook.

State officials blamed a button pushed in error during an employee shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency for the first message. Governor David Ige publicly apologized for the erroneous alert, which caused panic and disruptions throughout the state. The Federal Communications Commission and the Hawaii House of Representatives immediately announced investigations into the incident.

Loy saw footage from the event showing people putting their children down manholes or packing cars beyond capacity to respond to the event. She breathed a sigh of relief after learning of the error.

“I thought, ‘great, let’s go snorkeling,’” she said.

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