World News

Days after Hawaii's false missile alarm, a new one in Japan

Posted January 16, 2018 11:54 a.m. EST
Updated January 19, 2018 3:44 p.m. EST

Japan’s public broadcaster on Tuesday accidentally sent news alerts that North Korea had launched a missile and that citizens should take shelter — just days after the government of Hawaii had sent a similar warning to its citizens.

The broadcaster, NHK, corrected itself five minutes later and apologized for the error on its evening news. The initial texts cited J-Alert, a system used by the government to issue warnings to its citizens about missiles, tsunamis and other natural disasters. But NHK later said that the system was not to blame for the false alarm.

Makoto Sasaki, a spokesman for NHK, apologized, saying that “staff had mistakenly operated the equipment to deliver news alerts over the internet.”

The broadcaster’s swift rectification of its error stands in contrast to the 38-minute delay by officials in Hawaii on Saturday to cancel warnings of an incoming ballistic missile. It took a further five hours for Hawaii’s governor, David Y. Ige, to apologize for the mistake.

That blunder was blamed on a veteran employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, who had sent the missile alert to cellphones across the state by picking the wrong option on his computer for a routine drill, and then confirming his choice.

The mistake sowed panic; a missile launched from North Korea would land in Honolulu in about 30 minutes, giving people little time to prepare.

After NHK’s announcement about making an error, Twitter users expressed their frustration and disbelief.

“I thought I would die,” one Twitter user wrote in Japanese, followed by a “LOL.” Another, using the name Michiya Hayashi, wrote: “Following Hawaii, NHK did it too. Don’t become the boy who cried wolf.”

If the citizens of Japan and Hawaii were only starting to shake off any sense of unease, North Korea waded into the debate Tuesday, with its state-run newspaper describing the false alarm in Hawaii as a “tragicomedy.”

“The entire island was thrown into an utter chaos at the news that a ballistic missile was coming in,” said the newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, with unmistakable glee.

The newspaper also characterized a tweet by President Donald Trump two weeks ago in which he claimed to have a bigger nuclear button than North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, as “a spasm of a lunatic” and the “bark of a rabid dog.”

“The spasm of Trump in the new year reflects the desperate mental state of a loser who failed to check the vigorous advance of the army and people” of North Korea, the newspaper said in a commentary.

Trump has so far not responded to those comments.