SEOUL, South Korea – Japanese public broadcaster NHK mistakenly sent an alert Tuesday warning that North Korea had fired a missile, just days after a similar mistake caused panic in Hawaii.
Unlike in the Hawaii case, however, this error took only five minutes to correct.
“NHK news alert. North Korea appears to have launched a missile,” NHK said in a notification sent through its app to mobile phone users at 6:55 p.m. Tokyo time. “The government J-alert urges people to take shelter inside buildings or underground.”
Japan has an advanced warning system, known as J-alerts, that has traditionally been used for earthquakes but has, over the past year, increasingly been used to warn about North Korean missile activity.
North Korea fired two missiles over the Japanese island of Hokkaido last year, triggering the expansion of the system. The government began an education campaign on what to do in the case of an incoming missile, and local authorities held emergency drills in areas on Japan’s west coast.
Five minutes later, NHK sent another notification: “The news alert about a North Korean missile sent earlier was a mistake. No government J alert was issued.”
The broadcaster apologized for the mistake on the air, and said that a “switching error” was to blame.
This slip-up came just four days after an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency pressed the wrong button during a training exercise and sent a “Missile alert” instead of a “Test missile alert.”
That sent an emergency alert to cellphones across Hawaii shortly after 8 a.m. local time Saturday, reading: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
It took 38 minutes for authorities to sent a second alert saying that it was a false alarm, during which time some Hawaii residents said they cowered in their homes or raced to gather up family members.
The alert came as representatives from 20 countries, including Japan, gathered in Vancouver, B.C., on Tuesday to discuss options to escalate pressure on North Korea over its missile and nuclear programs.
The meeting, hosted by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, was called before the recent start of talks between North and South Korea on next month’s Winter Olympics.