FSU women's tennis team returns home after false alert in Hawaii

By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
January 15, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – The Florida State women’s tennis team is back in Tallahassee following a life altering weekend in Hawaii.

The team was prepping for its tournament when players received an alert reading, “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.” 38 minutes later, residents and tourists on the island were alerted that the message was a false alarm.

"Those 38 minutes were the slowest 38 minutes of my life. My teammates' faces were scared. Many were teary eyed. So was I,” said Gabriella Castaneda, a senior on the team. "I was sending it to family members. I was like don't panic, but this is happening. I don't know if it's real or not. That moment we didn't know anything. We were just expecting the worst."

The message came around 8 a.m., while the team was still at its hotel. After talking in a group chat about the alert, the women met in the lobby and later sheltered in a stairwell.

Head Coach Jennifer Hyde recalled, "Sheer panic in the hotel.”

“A lot of the staff there were yelling go to your rooms, fill up your bathtubs with water. I just wanted to get my team out of the chaos,” she said.

According to CBS News, Vern Miyagi, the administrator for the Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA), said in a press conference around noon Hawaiian time that his team was responsible for the error. According to Miyagi, the error happened during a shift change and at 8:07 a.m., "the wrong button was pushed" during the internal drill.

Here in Florida, the state uses the company EverBridge to send out emergency alerts.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Florida Division of Emergency Management said, “During times of severe weather and disaster, the State of Florida utilizes the EverBridge system to alert residents of potential danger. This system was most recently utilized during Hurricane Irma. When the EverBridge system is used, messages are reviewed by multiple emergency management officials at the Division of Emergency Management prior to being disseminated.”

If an alert was to be sent out about a pending missile, that initial decision and alert would be made at the federal or state level, with Leon County Emergency Management acting in a supporting role.

“Our position would be to support the state with their messaging,” said Kevin Peters, Director of Leon County Emergency Management. “We would relay protective information that (residents) may need to stay safe. Whether that’s the location of any type of shelters or something they can do to fortify their homes.”

Peters also noted that during periods of time when there is no disaster occurring, staff work closely with community partners to refine and practice communication plans.

"To make sure when it does come time for an emergency, number one we can do it right and say the right things, and we can say it in a clear fashion,” he said.

Coach Hyde said the experience is a game changer moving forward.

"I think now the conversation changes. I think times are different now and I think you have to have a conversation of how to prepare in these situations and what to do," she said.

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