We all know where we were when we got the alert on our phones.
My husband had just taken some coolers down into the garage. One of my friends was fast asleep but woke up to the sound of the alert. I was driving with my mom and 13-month-old son to Pearlridge to go to the farmers market.
The message on my iPhone read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
The all-caps didn’t help.
I immediately called my husband.
“Did you get the alert?”
“What do we do?”
“I don’t know.”
I was already on the road, heading toward Pearl Harbor, which, I figured would be an obvious target. And I had two of the most important people in the world IN MY CAR with me. I was now responsible for their safety. I didn’t know what to do.
As we drove down the H-1 toward Pearlridge, we noticed cars and trucks pulling over under bridges and overpasses. Smart, I thought. At least smarter than still driving. I needed a plan.
My mom was frantically searching the Internet on her phone to find information about this warning. I was all over Twitter. “Anyone else get that ballistic missile threat?” A barrage of tweets followed. Apparently, yes. Some claiming to hear sirens. Others seeing alerts on TV. It was obvious no one knew what to do except panic — and tweet.
Honestly, what could we do? When we get an alert like that in Hawai‘i, we have literally 15 minutes to run and hide. (Or “seek shelter” as the local civil defense says.) What can we possibly do in 15 minutes beside down a bottle of wine, hug our kids and dogs and post one last selfie?
And if we survive the initial attack — which, according to the military, would annihilate 10 percent of the population — we’ve got about two weeks until we can emerge from whatever shelter we’re in. (Who’s got basements or bunkers in Hawai‘i?) Then what?
We’ve all been on edge since President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, began threatening nuclear attack. We’re just 4,600 miles from Pyongyang and we all know those missiles can reach here, no problem.
I drove to the back of Moanalua Valley, thinking we would be safe (safer) here. We were met by a Boy Scouts troupe heading out for a hike. I felt pretty secure knowing we were with a bunch of kids who could tie knots and start fires with sticks.
By the time we got the official all-clear — more than half an hour later by the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency, which sent out the alert — everyone felt the affects. People were visibly shaken at the farmers market. One guy, who was buying ung choy, told me that he had rushed home to get to his family and two cars had run red lights. Another vendor ditched everything at the market and went straight home. We were strangers, all sharing our stories, all expressing our fears and emotions, all connected by this mistaken warning of an incoming ballistic missile attack.
It seems this always happens, right? A tsunami warning, a hurricane prediction, now a missile attack, and everyone freaks out, hugs the nearest person and clings to a hope that we’ll see our families again, we’ll make it through this, we’ll be OK.
Luckily — though not for the person who accidentally pressed the button — we are OK. The alert was a result of human error — not hackers — at the emergency command post.
But I hope this experience changed us — for the better. We worried we’d never see our parents again; visit more often. We hugged our kids one last time; hug them every day. We ate that piece of cake in our fridge; eat cake always.
I hope we all get our missile attack plans in place, we all take political action (run for office, write letters, volunteer, just vote) to ensure our safety, and remember that life as we know it can be over in just 15 minutes (less if you, like my mom, didn’t get the alert). So live accordingly.