P.E.I. couple 'relieved' to return home after false ballistic missile alert

A couple from Stratford, P.E.I., is happy and relieved to be returning home to the Island after what they describe as a terrifying experience when they received the alert that a ballistic missile was inbound to Hawaii.

'It was very, very real this morning'

Dave and Kate Flanagan were in Maui, Hawaii, for a leadership conference when they received the push alert that warned of an incoming ballistic missile to Hawaii. (Submitted by Kate Flanagan)

A couple from Stratford, P.E.I., is happy and relieved to be returning home to the Island after what they describe as a terrifying experience when they received what turned out to be a false alert that a ballistic missile was inbound to Hawaii. 

Dave Flanagan and his wife Kate were in Maui with their friends from Nova Scotia when they all received the wireless emergency alert that warned of an incoming ballistic missile to Hawaii.

"I was sitting on the patio looking out at the beautiful Pacific ocean," Flanagan explained. "All of a sudden an alert came over my phone from their local emergency response system saying there was an imminent threat of a ballistic missile." 

The emergency alert, sent to cellphones, said in all caps, "Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill." The alert also aired on television and radio. 

'It was the real deal' 

Flanagan said it only took five minutes before his family and friends were out of the room and following instructions from hotel staff to seek shelter.

"We gathered up what we could and went to the hotel lobby area and they put us in the grand ballroom, which has no windows in it." 

Flanagan said there were no televisions in the ballroom, so guests at the hotel were using their phones to try to get information about the alert. 

The emergency alert, which was sent to cellphones said in all caps, 'Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.' The alert also aired on television and radio. (Tulsi Gabbard/Twitter)

"We all kind of sat around a table and started using social media to try to find out what was going on," Flanagan said.

"We were contacting loved ones, of course, and telling them the situation, which is some pretty bleak news when you're telling your folks back home that you're sitting there waiting for something like that to happen."

Flanagan said he spoke with his mother and sister back home on P.E.I., who were trying to give him information about what was going on. He added that the atmosphere in the ballroom was definitely one of panic and high emotion. 

"It was basically people saying their goodbyes to people on phones," Flanagan explained. "It was the real deal and definitely not something I want to experience again." 

False alarm

Hawaii Gov. David Y. Ige said the alert was sent in error on Saturday by a worker who "pushed the wrong button" during a shift change at the state's emergency command post.

Flanagan said it was 38 minutes before anyone in the hotel was notified that the missile threat was a false alarm. He said some of the people in the ballroom were contacting their friends in the Canadian military to find more about the threat, but the first notifications that the alert was a mistake came through Twitter.

Vern Miyagi of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency explains what went wrong with ballistic missile alert 0:30

"Then it started coming in from everywhere that it was false," he said. 

He said he and his wife felt huge relief when they found out the alert was a mistake, but for many people around him this relief quickly turned into anger. 

'This whole idea of flexing muscle everywhere all the time, is putting the world in a pretty tense situation,' Flanagan said. 'At the end of the day you need a little bit more harmony in the world.' (Ron Kosen/photospectrumkauai.com/AP)

"I was very angry that we were put in that situation," Flanagan said. "You know, you're threatened here with your family and your friends. It's a scary experience." 

He also said he hopes this experience is a wake-up call that it's time for the world to be a happier place.

"This whole idea of flexing muscle everywhere, all the time, is putting the world in a pretty tense situation," he said. "At the end of the day you need a little bit more harmony in the world." 

Flanagan said he and his wife were supposed to fly back to P.E.I. on Thursday night, but had to change their flight because of bad weather conditions in Canada. They were expected to head home Saturday evening instead. He added that he and his wife can't wait to see their children.

About the Author

Brittany Spencer

Reporter

Brittany Spencer is a multi-platform journalist with CBC P.E.I. Email: brittany.spencer@cbc.ca