Students confused, scared of inbound threat
The Santa Clara
January 18, 2018
Santa Clara sophomore Erin Bullard woke up on Saturday at 10:11 a.m. to a text from her parents that she never thought she’d read.
“Ballistic missile warning just arrived on the cell phone on its way to Hawaii,” the message from her dad read. “Looks like it’s all begun. Pray for us.”
Bullard immediately woke up her roommate, Madi Tostrud—who is also from Hawaii—to tell her the news.
Confused and terrified, both girls took to their phones trying to find out what was happening back home.
“I sent [my parents] a text saying that I loved them and to stay safe,” said Bullard. “Then I started Googling, checking Twitter and Facebook to see what was going on.”
Across campus, Santa Clara sophomore and Hawaii resident Kyle Yoshino received a notification from the CNN app on his phone about the missile alert.
“I immediately showed the other Hawaii people around me,” Yoshino said. “I was scared for my family and really sad I was so far away at the time.”
Back in Hawaii, people were sent into a panic, abandoning cars on the highway and preparing to flee their homes. It seemed like the world was about to end for the island that was already jittery over the threat of nuclear-tipped missiles from North Korea.
The emergency alert, which was sent to cellphones statewide just before 8:10 a.m. Hawaii-Aleutian Time: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
Hawaii residents—along with friends and relatives far and wide— scrambled for nearly 40 minutes, preparing for the absolute worst.
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA) tweeted there was no threat about 10 minutes after the initial alert, but that didn’t reach people who aren’t on the social media platform. A revised alert informing of the “false alarm” didn’t reach cellphones until about 40 minutes later.
Officials apologized repeatedly and said the alert was sent when someone hit the wrong button during a shift change. They vowed to ensure it would never happen again.
“We made a mistake,” HI-EMA Administrator Vern Miyagi said.
The incident prompted defense agencies including the Pentagon and the U.S. Pacific Command to issue the same statement, that they had “detected no ballistic missile threat to Hawaii.”
Hawaii House Speaker Scott Saiki said the system Hawaii residents have been told to rely on failed miserably. He also took emergency management officials to task for taking 30 minutes to issue a correction, prolonging panic.
“Clearly, government agencies are not prepared and lack the capacity to deal with emergency situations,” he said in a statement.
The terrifying mistake was not taken lightly even 2,000 miles away.
“If I were back home when I got the notification, I would be in hysterics,” Tostrud said. “This isn’t just some little mistake someone made. They truly scared people and made them believe many of their lives would be ending that day.”
For their part, Hawaii Governor David Ige and Miyagi, the emergency management administrator, apologized and vowed changes.
“I am sorry for the pain and confusion it caused. I, too, am extremely upset about this and am doing everything I can do to immediately improve our emergency management systems, procedures and staffing,” Ige said.
With the threat of missiles from North Korea in people’s minds, the state reintroduced the Cold Warera warning siren tests last month, drawing international attention.
According to the HI-EMA website, despite the mere 12 to 15 minutes that residents have before missile impact, planning for a nuclear attack is not futile.
“More than 90 percent of the population would survive the direct effects of such an explosion,” the HI-EMA page for frequently asked questions said. “Planning and preparedness are essential to protect those survivors from delayed residual radiation and other effects of the attack.”
In the event of a missile being sent towards Hawaii, or any state, officials suggest that all residents immediately seek shelter.
Many students are still shaken up by the false alarm and have had a taste of the fear and helplessness that precede such a horrifying event.
“I was instantly relieved to hear that there was no threat, but also terrified over the fact that we even have to worry about missiles,” Bullard said. “Having to actually believe that you wouldn’t see your parents, friends, and home again made me feel so helpless. I was terrified, angry, relieved and confused all at the same time.”
AP contributed reporting. Contact Kimi Andrew at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.