Japan's public broadcaster sends false alarm about North Korean missile

Japanese public broadcaster NHK issued a false alarm about a North Korean missile launch on Tuesday, just days after a similar gaffe caused panic in Hawaii, but the broadcaster managed to correct the error within minutes.

Mistake comes just days after similar gaffe caused panic in Hawaii

A false alarm about a North Korean missile launch by Japan's public broadcaster NHK, is pictured on a smartphone in Tokyo on Tuesday. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)

Japanese public broadcaster NHK issued a false alarm about a North Korean missile launch on Tuesday, just days after a similar gaffe caused panic in Hawaii, but the broadcaster managed to correct the error within minutes.

The mistake took place at a tense time in the region following North Korea's largest nuclear test to date in September and its claim in November that it had successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach all of the U.S. mainland.

Pyongyang regularly threatens to destroy Japan and the United States.

But there were no immediate reports of panic or other disruptions following the NHK report.

NHK's 6.55 p.m. local time alert said: "North Korea appears to have launched a missile … The government urges people to take shelter inside buildings or underground."

The same alert was sent to mobile phone users of NHK's online news distribution service.

In five minutes, the broadcaster put out another message on the website correcting itself and said no government warning — called "J-alert" — had been issued.

"This happened because equipment to send a news flash onto the Internet had been incorrectly operated. We are deeply sorry," an NHK announcer said on its 9 p.m. news program, bowing deeply in apology.

Tensions heightened

Regional tension soared after North Korea in September conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test, and in November said it had successfully tested a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach all of the U.S. mainland. It regularly threatens to destroy Japan and the United States.

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 centres, cover their heads and duck down to the floor. A major drill is planned in downtown Tokyo next week.

Cars drive past a highway sign that says 'Missile alert error there is no threat' on the H-1 Freeway in Honolulu, in this Saturday photo provided by Civil Beat. (Cory Lum/Associated Press)

Human error and a lack of fail-safe measures during a civil defence warning drill led to the false missile alert that stirred panic across Hawaii, a state emergency management agency spokesperson said.

Elaborating on the origins of Saturday's false alarm, which went uncorrected for nearly 40 minutes, spokesperson Richard Rapoza said the employee who mistakenly sent the missile alert had been "temporarily reassigned" to other duties.

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.

'Nowhere to run'

Japan's J-Alert system was put to the test last August when North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan that eventually landed in waters off the northern region of Hokkaido.

The government's J-Alert system broke into radio and TV programming, warning citizens of the possible missile. Bullet train services were temporarily halted and warnings went out over loudspeakers in towns in Hokkaido.

"I was woken by the missile alert on my cellphone," said Ayaka Nishijima, 41, an office worker from Morioka, the capital of Iwate prefecture, 300 kilometres south of Cape Erimo.

"I didn't feel prepared at all. Even if we get these alerts, there's nowhere to run. It's not like we have a basement or bomb shelter, all we can do is get away from the window," she told Reuters by text message.

With files from The Associated Press

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