Hawaiians get false alert of missile attack

Emergency alert sent to mobile phones and broadcast on radio and TV warning of an imminent ballistic missile attack turned out to be false and the result of human error.
4:31 | 01/13/18

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Transcript for Hawaiians get false alert of missile attack
We begin tonight with complete panic and chaos in Hawaii after that emergency alert sounded across the islands just after 8:00 A.M. Local time. Residents seen running for cover. Families hiding in bomb shelters. Take a listen. This is not a drill. Take immediate action measure. Reporter: The dire warning of a ballistic missile threat buzzing on cell phones stripped across television screens. Residents told to seek immediate shelter, quote, this is not a drill. It took 38 minutes for the all clear for some people. The message, a human error false alarm, and it comes weeks after Hawaii reinstated a cold war era missile alert system in the event of an attack by north Korea following Kim Jong-un's repeated tests. In Hawaii tonight the governor saying an employee at shift change is to blame, but there are so many questions still, and ABC's Stephanie Ramos starts us off from the Pentagon. Hawaiians fleeing and this message going out on cell phones reading, ballistic missile threat inbound. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill. The warnings left an entire stat terrified. We were up on a mountain and almost like fell off it trying to get to our children. Reporter: People pulling over in tunnels, confused tourists hunkering down in hotels. People are hiding in tunnels, people are locking down their homes, they're heading for the mountains. Reporter: One mother saying her daughter was away at a slummer Barth when the alert went out. And so she calls me because they're all getting the alert. Mom, what are we supposed to do? I'm like, stay there. If something happens, no matter what do not leave that house. Reporter: Families filling up their bathtub with water and stocking up on supplies. The people of Hawaii have been on edge in recent mops as north's Kim Jong-un moves closer to perfecting a nuclear-tipped missile. Just last month, Hawaii tested their nuclear attack warning sirens for the first time since the 19980s. But this was not real. 12 minutes after tusli gabbard said this is a false alarm. Norrad with assets in place to detect a missile approaching saw the state had not corrected the alert so clarified saying the message was sent in error. But hawaiian officials didn't send out that correction message statewide for 38 minutes. This should not have happened. Reporter: The governor says this was a result of human error. It was a procedure that occurs at the change of shift where they go through to make sure that the system is working and an employee pushed the wrong button. Reporter: But tonight many are asking why did it take so long for a correction to go out? We need to work on the response time. If anything like this happens, the cancellation got to go right away. Reporter: Definitely some very big questions right now and Stephanie joins us from the Pentagon. Stephanie, those warning systems are controlled by federal agent skis but tonight the blame is being blaised squarely on Hawaii. Reporter: Absolutely, Cecilia. The state's warning system is a FEMA capability. Whoever has the alerting authority, either state or local, can push out those alert messages, now, a source here at the Pentagon tells me today's false alert was a pure mistake by the Hawaii emergency alert system. Cecilia. Stephanie Ramos leading us off tonight, thank you. While human herer may be to blame, the chaos and confusion in Hawaii today seemed to reveal a system not ready for the real thing. I want to bring in ABC news contributor Steve ganyard. As you have talked about so many times before, the threat from North Korea obviously very real, but people today clearly did not know what to do. Cecilia, this reaction, this panic that we saw in Hawaii probably never would have happened just a few months ago. But now that we've seen north Korea demonstrate a nuclear capability, threaten the united States with nuclear war, we need to go back to the future, go back to those cold war days where we took civil defense seriously and make sure that our warning systems are in place and that they work and we can't have a problem like we had today that was based on a simple human error. A big problem there. Colonel ganyard, thank you.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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