"There is nothing we can do with a missile", Sterling said.
Hawaii emergency officials later determined that the alert sent to people's cellphones on Saturday was a false alarm.
He said the father had just dropped his oldest child off at the airport and stopped at a restaurant when he received the warning.
The US military's Pacific command said on Saturday there was no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii after a message was sent in error to Hawaii residents' mobile phones.
Soon after, Hawaii's Emergency Management Agency tweeted that there was no such missile threat to its citizens - but provided no explanation as to why the alert was sent in the first place.
State officials and the US military's Pacific Command confirmed that there was no actual threat to the state.
"I woke up and saw missile warning and thought no way".
Screenshots bouncing around social media show alerts reading, in all caps "BALLISTIC MISSILE INBOUND TO HAWAII". "It was a false alarm based on a human error". If you are outdoors, seek immediate shelter in a building.
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"We need to understand how a serious error like this happened because people react to protect their families, especially in Hawaii where we live with the reality of a nuclear threat across the Pacific".
State civil defense officials confirmed at 8:45 a.m. today that there is no threat from a missile, and that an earlier warning was a "false alarm".
US President Donald Trump was briefed following the incident.
Hawaii has been on edge in recent months amid an escalating war of words between the United States and North Korea. "There needs to be tough and quick accountability and a fixed process", he wrote.
Governor David Ige, a Democrat, said in comments aired on CNN, "I was awakened by the alert like everyone else here in the state of Hawaii".
KPRC 2's Sara Donchey is now in Hawaii and said she also received the alert on her cell phone.
Ige says, "The public must have confidence in our emergency alert system".
The state was only able to recall the alert 40 minutes after it was originally dispatched, which left fear-stricken residents in limbo awaiting catastrophe.