By now you've all seen the news and the headlines that on Saturday, January 13, those of us in Hawaii received a message that a ballistic missile was heading our way. It's funny how you think you'll be prepared for anything and will react a certain way in a scenario, but you just never know until it actually happens to you.
The night before the message was sent out, I flew in and returned home to O`ahu after being away for nearly a month. You know how it is when you've been away for a while and you get home and realize that you have absolutely no food in your house? That was my thought on Saturday morning when I got up at about 6:30am and didn't even have any coffee for the Keurig. I decided that I would head out to run some errands and pick up some coffee along the way.
Leaving my house at about 8:05am, I was cruising down the street with my windows down and one of my favorite reggae songs playing on the radio. With the sun shining, not a cloud in the sky, and the temperature in the 70s, I was thinking to myself how happy I was to be back in Hawaii after a very cold trip home back east. The song on the radio was singing "today's a new day" and in my head I was thinking "today's a good day."
About a mile from my house, I heard the emergency alert come over my phone at 8:07am. In Hawaii, we get these alerts from time to time warning of extreme weather like flash floods even when it doesn't look like it's going to rain on the dry side of the island where I live. I wasn't going to bother to look, but I glanced down at my phone and capital letters jumped out at me. I read the words "BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."
I kept reading the words "THIS IS NOT A DRILL" over and over again, not believing my eyes. I contemplated whether or not this was real for what seemed like an hour, but it was, in reality, more like ten seconds. I looked around to see if anyone else had gotten this message and the scene in front of me looked exactly the same as before the message went out. People out leisurely walking their dogs and cars going about their business. For a moment I contemplated rolling down my windows and spreading the news to people so that they, too, could seek shelter. What if something happened and I didn't help anyone?
A few months ago when North Korea was flexing their muscles and threatening us and then seriously threatened Guam, I freaked out just a bit and watched everything on the news about what to do if a ballistic missile is heading your way. The piece of information that terrified me the most was that a missile could make it here in 20 minutes and when we are notified of this, we have between 10-15 minutes to seek shelter.
Deciding it was better to go home to see what was going on with the limited time frame, I U-turned and drove home as fast as I could. A guy who I had seen out for a casual jog on my way out had now turned around and was sprinting home and all the while he kept looking down at his phone. This was my first and only indication that anyone else had received this message.
I flew into my driveway, parked my car in the garage (because a garage door will surely protect my car if a nuclear bomb detonates) and ran inside my house. I started filling my pots and pans with water because from everything I've read, you can't go outside for weeks afterwards due to radiation. Just like my garage door, I was being hopeful that my thin condo walls were really going to protect me. I was about to run upstairs and fill the bathtub up as well, but thought that I should go outside on my lanai and see if I hear anything unusual.
Since November, the State of Hawaii has been testing Cold War era sirens that are located on massive telephone poles all around the islands. There is a siren pole just beyond the little field of farmland behind my lanai. I ran out as fast as I could to see if these were going off because surely they would be. Stepping outside, it seemed just as much of a beautiful Hawaiian day as it did when I left my house 15 minutes prior. Sunny, quiet, and not a trace of a siren piercing the air.
Looking up, I saw planes still in the landing pattern into the airport in Honolulu. Surely they wouldn't still be landing commercial jets into the airport if this was a real threat, I thought to myself. Something just seemed off. I called my dad to tell him of the message in case it was real to which his calm response was "hmmm that seems weird." Thanks for keeping cool, Dad! At the same time, I turned on the TV to see what they were saying. Nothing. It was regular programming on every channel I put on, including the national news stations. The feeling of "this is strange" grew more intense.
I flipped to the local news station and felt relieved to see they were playing a soccer game, but then I listened to what was being broadcast over the game:
"The US Pacific Command has detected a missile threat to Hawaii. A missile may impact on land or sea within minutes. This is not a drill. Seek immediate shelter in a building. Remain indoors well away from windows. If you are driving, pull safely to the side of the road and seek shelter in a building or lay on the floor. We will announce when the threat has ended. This is not a drill. Take immediate action and measures."
This, I felt was confirmation, and it terrified me. I ran into my kitchen, away from windows, waiting for the glass on my sliding doors to blow in at any second. Luckily, my dad was with my brother who is a police officer who likes to get down to facts before getting emotional. Doing a quick search online, he started telling my dad that from what he could see online, it was fake. I, however, wasn't believing that until I saw it with my own eyes.
In today's day and age, news travels so fast on mediums like Twitter. Logging on, I was seeing people retweet a message from Tulsi Gabbard who was saying that the emergency alert was not real. I'm embarrassed to admit that I didn't know who Tulsi Gabbard was (Congresswoman from Hawaii) so I didn't see any validity to the tweets. A minute or two later, some news organizations started tweeting out the same thing and then I knew that there was no threat.
Prior to that confirmation, someone on Twitter pointed out that he didn't see any military presence in the sky so he wasn't going to freak out. What a smart observation, I thought to myself. Living on O`ahu in close proximity to Pearl Harbor, Hickam Air Force Base and the likes, we see military planes in the air constantly. As I sit on my lanai writing this article, I've seen 16 fighter jets fly overhead, more than the amount of birds I've seen today. I snapped this pic as the first set flew over:
What really angered me was that a correction emergency alert was not sent out for some 38 minutes after the initial message. The State says that they tweeted within ten minutes that it was an error, but why not send a correction emergency alert? Clearly no one had seen the tweet! I read somewhere that they thought they needed FEMA's approval to send the correction message out, hence the delay, but it turned out they did not need FEMA's approval after all.
At about 8:45am, I decided to carry on with my errands and headed back out. It was apparent that the aloha spirit was in the air more than usual. People saying hello, holding doors for each other, and just smiling at one another more. I took the below picture about 20 minutes before all the chaos erupted. And guess what? I'm still happy to have returned to Hawaii and that aloha spirit.
Walking through Target pushing my cart filled with cases of water (you know, just in case for the future), the entire morning felt completely surreal and made up. I'm so glad that it kind of was.