On January 13, 2018, with belligerent threats and nuclear tensions between the US and North Korea on a knife edge, civil authorities in the US state of Hawaii sent out an alert to all cell phones, television, and radios in the state, saying:


This caused emotional trauma and interruptions of various kinds across the state. The stress caused at least one heart attack and lots of other disruptions.

Has any civil (or criminal) liability attached to any person or organization as a result of that false alarm?

Are there strong legal theories or case law setting precedent for or against such liability?

  • 1
    The title question is one of historical fact and not law. The last question could be addressed however.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 15, 2019 at 19:11
  • @ohwilleke An answer to the first might also answer the second. There are other answers to the second, which would not directly answer the first but would be just as interesting, at least to me.
    – WBT
    Mar 15, 2019 at 19:19
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    The last question is the core of what I'm interested in. The preceding content helps make it more concrete and specific to avoid asking an unanswerably broad question.
    – WBT
    Mar 15, 2019 at 19:38

1 Answer 1


I do not know what actually happened to anyone in the aftermath of this incident, but it is unlikely that there is a basis for civil or criminal liability in this case.

Criminal liability does not generally attach to negligent conduct except in cases of homicide or criminally negligent motor vehicle operation. But, this case appears to have involved mere negligence. It appears that somebody made an honest mistake rather than acting recklessly or intentionally to cause harm.

Governmental entities and officers of governmental agencies acting in their official capacity have immunity from liability for negligence except in some vary narrowly defined areas (e.g. failure to maintain government buildings, medical mistakes in government hospitals, and car accidents) which seem unlikely to be implicated here. But, it seems likely that the responsible parties were all governmental entities or officers of governmental agencies acting in their official capacities. So, it is unlikely that there would be civil liability either.

Needless to say, however, this does not look good on the job performance record of any civil servant below the Governor (who doesn't get evaluated in that way) when being considered for promotion, demotion, unfavorable transfers or even termination of employment.

Obviously, if new facts were uncovered and this was actually more nefarious than it seems, and this hidden truth was discovered, there could be a basis for civil or criminal liability. But, if this was the case, it would have made headlines.

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    I’d be surprised if there was negligence at all - it appears the person made a reasonable choice based on the facts available. Exercising judgement is not negligence.
    – Dale M
    Mar 15, 2019 at 21:59

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