Preparedness

Man Who Suffered Heart Attack During Hawaii's False Missile Alert Sues State

The mistaken alert, which caused statewide panic, occurred when HI-EMA sent a text alert to most cellphones in the state warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack and advising, “This is not a drill.” HI-EMA did not send out an official retraction of the false alarm for 38 minutes.

by Kristen Consillio, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / November 28, 2018
This smartphone screen capture shows a false incoming ballistic missile emergency alert sent from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency system on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2018. AP/Marco Garcia

(TNS) - A man who had a heart attack minutes after saying what he thought were his last goodbyes to his children following Hawaii’s infamous ballistic missile alert on Jan. 13 is suing the state for an undisclosed amount.

James Sean Shields and his girlfriend, Brenda Rei­chel, filed a lawsuit in first Circuit Court against the state and Vern Miyagi, former administrator of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, or HI-EMA, for the false alarm they claim triggered the heart attack.

The mistaken alert, which caused statewide panic, occurred when HI-EMA sent a text alert to most cellphones in the state warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack and advising, “This is not a drill.” HI-EMA did not send out an official retraction of the false alarm for 38 minutes.

The couple received the message on their cellphones and were “extremely frightened and thought they were shortly going to die,” according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday by Honolulu attorney Sam King.

“They decided that there was not much they could do to protect themselves from this threat and decided that if they were going to die, they might as well die together on the beach,” the lawsuit said.

Shortly after making calls to his son and daughter on the mainland, Shields began to feel a severe burning in his chest and rushed to a Straub clinic in Hawaii Kai. Within minutes he went into cardiac arrest. A Straub doctor began CPR, and after emergency paramedics arrived he had a heart attack, the complaint said. He later received emergency surgery and had four stents inserted into his heart.

“The warning there was an imminent missile attack about to hit Hawaii was a substantial contributing factor in causing the heart attack and cardiac arrest experienced by James Shields on Jan. 13,” said 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. “Prior to that time, Mr. Shields had no known cardiac disease.”

The state Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the complaint and will respond at a later time, said spokesman Krishna Jaya­ram.

“First, the suffering of the family and friends are felt by many,” added HI-EMA spokesman Richard Rapoza. “As to the lawsuit, we look forward to resolving this case in an appropriate forum, but we’re going to reserve any comment until we have had a chance to review the claims.”

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