On January 13, my husband and I were winding down from our fabulous 11-day vacation on Maui. For the first ten days, we were able to enjoy some great Maui-brewed beer, wander lovely beaches and generally have a relaxing time. Until Day 11. I was packing for our afternoon flight when my cell phone emitted an emergency alert. We all know that sound – it is the one that comes with the Amber Alerts about potential local child abductions. They are always worrisome and, as a parent, sad, but when my husband picked up my phone and said, “Um, I think you might want to see this…” I was puzzled. “An Amber Alert?”
“Well, actually, it says that there is a ballistic missile headed to Hawaii…”
WHAT?! The actual text read: “Emergency Alert. BALLISTIC MISILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
OK, planning for disasters is what I do every day. But I have to say that this gave me pause… Let’s see, I have written plans for earthquakes, fire, civil unrest, floods, pandemics… Dang, not one for ballistic missiles! What should we do?
I did what most people were evidently doing-- Going out on the balcony and shouting to others on balconies – “What does this mean? What should we do?”
The condo came with a binder on how to do laundry, requests to keep sand on the beaches, and the best places to eat breakfast, but, perhaps not surprisingly, not a thing about ballistic missiles.
Then I did what I figured one does in the 21st century…I turned to Twitter. However, when I searched for anything “missile,” I got the same thing my trip to the balcony got me – “What does this mean? What should we do?” And, of course, “Is this a hoax?”
On TV we found, perhaps logically, that the owner had gotten the “sports package” so the only thing on every channel was some type of sporting event. Now I know that sports are really big, but somehow I thought maybe something like a missile strike MIGHT interrupt at least the bowling and darts channels for a while. Eventually, a scrolling message appeared with the same message, along with “If you are indoors stay indoors, if you are outside, seek shelter indoors.”
The scientist in me started to contemplate just where the safest place would be. After considering several scenarios, I realized that on some level it really didn’t matter. In fact, it seemed more like a situation of “luck” in terms of where you were in relationship to where the missile landed. My thought was, “Is sitting in this condo on the top floor any better than sitting on the beach a few hundred yards away? And the beach has a much better view!”
After a very long 20 minutes or so, the TV finally announced that it was “mistake” and that no missile was on its way. And because of some procedural obstacle, the actual Amber-like alert to recall the first message was not sent until 38 minutes after the first warning, which for those not getting an earlier “oopsy” message must have seemed much, much longer.
While it certainly makes for an interesting vacation story, it really did give me pause. Given North Korea’s recent activities, this was certainly plausible in my mind. It also gave me some work to do. It never seemed that necessary a few years ago to add “missile strike” to our emergency plan. On one hand, it seems a little crazy, but on the other, well, it’s best to be prepared.
I am attaching a video of what I believe happened in the Hawaii Office of Emergency Operations on that day. https://www.youtube.com/watch?
v=VimTTtmTbmQ It seems as plausible as anything else I’ve read.
Enjoy and stay prepared, my friends.