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A Botched Emergency Test And 38 'Unimaginable, Unforgivable' Minutes In Hawaii

This Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018, photo provided by Jhune Liwanag shows a highway median sign broadcasting a message of "There is no threat" in Kaneohe, Hawaii. State emergency officials mistakenly sent out an emergency alert warning of an imminent missile strike, sending islanders into a panic.
Jhune Liwanag via the AP

Over the weekend, thousands of Hawaiian residents woke up to an alert on their phones that a ballistic missile was about to strike their state.

"Missile threat inbound to Hawaii," it read. "Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill."

For 38 minutes, people frantically called loved ones, huddled with their children in bathtubs, and sought refuge in underground shelters.

Then, they received another alert: It was all a mistake. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency said the result came during a planned drill, and the alert was sent because of a human error. 

Juliette Kayyem, homeland security expert and CEO of Zemcar, said that mistakes happen, but the slow response time in correcting the error was a serious concern.

"I'll never condemn a state emergency management agency from testing systems, from upgrading systems. You want that all to happen," Kayyem said. "The unimaginable, unforgivable part is that 38 minutes."

Kayyem urged the state government to take steps to regain the confidence of Hawaiians.

"One [thing] is obviously having Hawaii regain confidence in their state emergency management system, not just for missiles coming down but for tsunamis and earthquakes and other things people can suffer," Kayyem said.

"You have to have confidence in the system," she continued. "When the governor says, 'We're closing the streets, stay inside, run for the hills,' whatever it is you're going to do, whatever the harm is, you want people to listen."

Kayyem also believes the White House's response was troubling. President Trump did not comment on the error until the following day. According to Politico, his cabinet has "yet to test formal plans for how to respond to a domestic missile attack."

"It means the Department of Homeland Security is solely about immigration now rather than crisis management," Kayyem said. "We know from [Hurricane] Katrina you can't just focus on one thing. In other words, before Katrina, we were only focused on terrorism. You have to look at the totality of things that can face this nation and figure out what you're going to do."

Click the audio player above to listen to the entire interview with Juliette Kayyem. 

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