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At first, Honolulu 911 operators were just telling people to turn on CNN, because they, too, had no idea whether a ballistic missile was really about to blow up the state.

“Hello, I just got a message on my telephone saying there’s a ballistic missile threat?” one woman said, in 911 calls just released this week by the Honolulu Police Department, capturing the panic on the day the state government accidentally warned all of Hawaii to take shelter immediately as a non-existent catastrophic missile approached.

“Yeah, at this time, we’re trying to see on the news, like CNN, because we just got the message too and we don’t have any answers right now,” the operator responded. “So we’re telling everybody, turn on the news and see what they’re saying, because right now we’re just getting inundated with calls.”

“I don’t own a TV,” the woman said. “What should I do?”

“OK, if anything – you know what? Do you have radio access?” the operator asked.

“I don’t know. No, I don’t. I just have the Internet. Should I go to a neighbor?”

“Yes, can you, please? Because we just don’t have the answers either.”

Such was the pandemonium and confusion that enveloped the state as thousands of people wondered on the morning of Jan. 13 whether they were all about to die in an unexpected attack.

In fact, an employee at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency misinterpreted instructions about an internal drill that was underway, thought an actual missile was headed for Hawaii, and then mistakenly sent this blaring alert to everyone’s cellphones at 8:07 a.m.: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

For 38 minutes, the state government didn’t issue a correction – apparently leaving that up to the apologetic 911 operators once they got word that everything was fine.

“So we should be good?” one befuddled 911 caller asked, just to make sure.

“We’re good,” the operator said. “So you can turn on your TV to CNN and it has all the updates right now.”

In response to requests from local media, the Honolulu Police Department released a sample of these calls, 24 out of the more than 2,000 that dispatchers received between 8:07 and 8:45 a.m. Hawaii time. Some wondered whether they should evacuate (“I can’t say that,” an operator responded), whether they should stay inside – and also whether the state government had any idea what it had done.

“Hi, uhm, I have a question. It’s kinda weird,” one man said in another 911 call. “I just got a message on my phone telling me I need to take shelter and there’s a missile-”

“Yeah, you know what, sir, it was a mistake,” the operator responded. “It was just a drill. Yeah, we’re not in danger. We’ve been notified about it. Yeah, it was a mistake.”

“Was that a typo?” he asked. “A really, really bad typo?”

Others refused to accept the operators’ assurance that it was “just a drill,” saying, “That’s not an answer. There has to be an answer as to what happened,” while others simply said, “Yeah, they’re idiots,” or “Somebody needs to. . .get smacked in the face.”

“Yeah, it wasn’t funny, and I hope they get to the bottom as to who did this. . . I’m so sorry,” the operator responded in that case.

It didn’t take long to get to the bottom of it.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige, D, apologized a few hours later and explained there was a breakdown in the system – a breakdown, officials said at the time, that stemmed from making the wrong selection on a drop-down menu. Despite access to social media, Ige was also criticized for not even chiming in on Twitter or Facebook to relieve the statewide panic for 17 long, silent minutes, even though he learned of the error within two minutes. The unidentified employee who sent the errant alert was fired, though he later claimed it wasn’t his fault.

“Who in the world would do such a thing?” one 66-year-old man asked in somewhat of an existential conversation with one 911 operator. “I mean, who in the world would do that?”

The caller and the operator started to theorize: Was it a prank? Hacking? Just a mistake? And what really would they have done if it were none of those things?

“I’m 66,” the man said. “I’m not going anywhere, if anything comes. Where would we go?”

“Yeah, that’s what people are saying too,” the operator said. “They didn’t know where to go.”

“I’m not going nowhere,” he said. “I’m staying home. I’m here on [the lake]. I’m staying put. Is there even a shelter, an island where we would go?”

“That’s what I mean,” said the operator. “It was like a wake-up call.”

“A wake-up call,” the man repeated. “Yeah. It was a wake-up call.”

“Yeah, because what if it was real, right?”