A false missile alert was sent out from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency to over a million cell phones on January 13, notifying Hawaii residents that a missile was en-route and that the situation was not a drill. While a correction was sent 38 minutes later, that was enough time for damage to be done, BuzzFeed News is reporting. The alert resulted in a mass panic in Hawaii, and officials were not able to retract the alert right away as the agency did not have a plan in place for a situation such as this occurring.
James Sean Shields suffered from a heart attack due to the terrifying incident. He and his girlfriend, Brenda Reichel, ignored the instructions to stay indoors and decided they were to die together at the beach. As the two called their children to say their goodbyes, Reichel's son, who is a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard, told that couple that the threat was indeed real, furthering their fear.
Shields reported feeling "a severe and painful burning in his chest area," and he "first tried cooling down by entering the water." When the pain did not subside, the couple headed to the hospital. This decision may have saved his life, as Shields went into cardiac arrest upon arriving. Medical professionals performed CPR and emergency surgery on Shields, saving him.
"My life has changed quite a bit over something silly that could have been retracted in a matter of minutes," Shields said. "It took a long time — 20, 30 minutes — for my heart attack to even start."Now, Shields is suing the state of Hawaii for the distressing situation. Backing him up is cardiologist John MacGregor, a professor of medicine at the San Francisco School of Medicine and a doctor at the University of California, San Francisco, Medical Center, who testified in the official complaint that Shields had no history of heart trouble and that the attack was likely to have been brought on by the fear following the false alert.
Attorney Samuel King Jr. was the one to file the lawsuit on behalf of the couple against the state of Hawaii and the former administrator of the Emergency Management Agency Vern Miyagi, who resigned from his position immediately following the incident. The lawsuit is also against the unknown employee who accidentally sent out the alert.
"We tried negotiating with the State, but the State's position is that the State is immune and the employees were not 'grossly negligent,'" King explained. "Even if we get a judgment against individual employees, the State won't pay, we'll have to collect the judgment from the individual employees."