In Depth: Japan public TV sends mistaken North Korean missile alert

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI/AP) — Japan’s public broadcaster mistakenly sent an alert Tuesday warning citizens of a North Korean missile launch and urging them to seek immediate shelter, then minutes later corrected it, days after a similar error in Hawaii.

NHK television issued the message on its internet and mobile news sites as well as on Twitter, saying North Korea appeared to have fired a missile at Japan. It said the government was telling people to evacuate and take shelter.

Eyewitness News Analyst Lt. General Reginald Centracchio (ret.) was in studio Wednesday to discuss the false missile alert in Japan and potential reforms for the nation’s emergency management systems.

“North Korea appears to have fired a missile,” NHK said, adding that a government warning had been issued. “The government: Seek shelter inside buildings and basements.”

The false alarm came just days after Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency sent a mistaken warning of a North Korean missile attack to mobile phones across the state, triggering panic.

NHK said the mistake was the result of an error by a staff member who was operating the alert system for online news, but did not elaborate. NHK deleted the tweet and text warning after several minutes, issued a correction and apologized several times on air and on other formats.

“The flash was a mistake,” NHK said. “We are very sorry.”

Tension has grown in Japan over North Korean missile tests as they have flown closer to Japanese coasts. NHK and other Japanese media generally alert each missile test, and the government has issued emergency notices when the missiles flew over Japan.

Japan is also stepping up its missile intercepting capabilities and conducting missile drills across the country in which residents, including schoolchildren and elderly people, rush to community centers, cover their heads and duck down to the floor. A major drill is planned in downtown Tokyo next week.

Unlike the mistaken Hawaii warning, the NHK alert did not contain the statement, “This is not a drill.” NHK was able to correct its error in a few minutes, far faster than the nearly 40 minutes that lapsed before the Hawaii alert was withdrawn.

The Hawaii agency has now changed its protocols to require that two people send an alert and made it easier to cancel a false alarm.

centracchioEyewitness News Analyst, Lt. Gen. Reginald Centracchio (ret.) served as Adjutant General of Rhode Island and Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard from 1995 until his retirement in 2005. During his tenure, he served as Director of the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency and as Rhode Island Homeland Security Advisor – becoming the first Adjutant General to hold all three positions simultaneously.