False missile alert forces a review of my life

A nuclear missile: that’s not how I thought my life would end – or at the very least, dramatically change – but for about ten minutes on a Saturday, that’s what I believed. I woke up a minute or two after the state mistakenly sent out an incoming missile warning at 8:07 a.m. on January 13 to phones across the Islands.

“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,” the push alert shouted in all caps. I had to read it three times to believe it. The first thing I do upon waking is check my phone, and I thought maybe I was groggy and confused.

I turned on the radio for more, but there was nothing. The second thing I noticed was there were no sirens. I listened for a minute and heard only the birds on a quiet, sunny morning. Strange, I thought – but went about getting dressed.

I then went into Olivia’s room where she was just getting up, too. “Hon, we have a problem,” I said.

“What?” she asked, probably thinking it was a play date cancellation or at worst, me being called in at the last minute to KITV for my on call job, thus ruining our Saturday Girls’ Day plans. We are by ourselves every Saturday through late afternoon as her dad has a Guys’ Day with his buddies.

“There’s a missile headed to Hawaii right now,” I continued.

She looked utterly confused. “What does that mean?” she pressed. I showed her the phone alert.

Really, what do you say to something like that? She’s ten-and-a-half and old enough to understand life and death. Am I supposed to pull punches? How does one even soften the blow of news like that?

Or would it serve her better to understand what’s going on in case Hawaii is truly bombed? I thought it would be easier to be honest, say what we need to say, do what we need to do, and have a few minutes to process.

“It means we might die today,” I answered. “I just want you to know I love you.”

She was shocked and stared at me for half a minute. “What do we do now?” she wanted to know.

“There is nothing we can do. We have to shelter in place,” I told her, then set about fixing breakfast. There’s no sense in dying hungry.

In a normal disaster, it’s “all hands on deck” in newsrooms, so I would have offered to go in. However, seeing as we’d all be vaporized within a quarter hour, I figured I’d just stay home and hug my kid.

I was thinking about if I was ready to die today, and I realized I was OK with it. I’ve hit a lot of my goals, experienced the richness of life, and have a beautiful child.

There’s more I want to do, and I like living, but if I had to die today, I don’t have regrets. I’ve done a lot.

I was also happy I was with my daughter, the most important person in my life. My main reason for not wanting to die is Olivia. She needs me.

If we’d go together, that’s fine. Of course, I’d like for her to grow up and experience life, but if it had to be this way, it’s the best of all possible scenarios.

This is the closest I've ever come to thinking that I would pass away. There was one time in Peru where things were a bit hairy, but this was the most clear and present threat I'd ever experienced. 

So that’s what I thought about in the long minutes that passed until I saw the cancellation email at 8:18. “Vern called. It’s a mistake. No missile,” Allison’s note read to the newsroom. Vern is Vern Miyagi, head of Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, which sent out both the incoming missile alert and later, the cancellation. 

I read it two more times just to be sure. It’s a total mind trip when you think you’re going to die, and then realize you’ll live.

My head was spinning. I’m sure Olivia’s was, too, when I relayed the good news.

I’m also appreciative of being connected to a newsroom, because we got the notice 27 minutes before the statewide push alert went out. To be fair, there were tweets that went out sooner, but I wasn’t thinking clearly in a semi-panic to consider logging onto the state’s or Governor’s social media accounts.

Minutes after that, my boss asked me to come to work immediately. It was the normal chaos of a breaking news situation, and for that, I was glad. It meant all was normal and we would live to see another day, and for that, I’m grateful.

What was your experience? What did you think and feel?

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