It was 8:07 am on Saturday January 13, I had just stepped out of the shower still dressed in a towel, I started making coffee in our hotel room in Honolulu, when I heard the emergency alert signal. It was a perfect blue sky Hawaiian day so i knew it could not be a weather warning. Before I had a chance to check my phone, my husband came into the room, “Get dressed, “ he said in a firm yet calm voice, showing me the message on his phone, he started filling his backpack with bottled water and non perishable items. I remember thinking how silly it was that I was changing my clothes, who cares what I’m wearing when I die, but even in pending danger there is decorum.
I grabbed the Ocean Vodka and our toothbrushes in the face of death good oral hygiene still seemed important and vodka makes a great antiseptic…Yeah, Right.
With our supplies in tow we headed to the hotel lobby.
In my mind all I could think about was my children and how if these were our last moments on earth, I just wanted them to know we loved them and we were okay. I tried to call but the phone lines were jammed. I wondered, did they even know where our life insurance policies were?
Don, finally was able to reach our daughter Kat and she contacted our other children, Liz and David, who both immediately called us. We told them how much we loved them, and of course I wanted them to know where our life insurance policy’s were, though this did not seem to matter to them at that moment. My daughter Liz and her fiancée Eddie were watching the news hoping to get information for us. I kept thinking I was so thankful this was us and my children were safe on the mainland.
Our next message was to siblings and friends asking them if they were seeing anything on the news and to make sure to be there for our children.
When we reached the hotel lobby there was no panic, everyone seemed stunned looking at their phones, asking others if they had seen the message. Don asked a hotel employee what their emergency plan was and where to take shelter. The poor frightened employee told him they had no idea….by this time a small crowd had gathered, they looked at Don who did not skip a beat and calmly said “Lets come up with one”. Looking around he decided the parking garage was about as good as we were going to get. I’m not sure if it was the look of confidence in Dons eyes, or if they saw the water supply he had in his backpack but suddenly he had a following. I have always joked that in a zombie apocalypse my husband is the one person I would want to be with, as he always seems to know what to do in any situation. And there he was by far the most prepared person around. His calm and resourceful command of the situation made me feel as if we would all be okay.
Once in the parking garage our group continued to try and get information on what was going on, everyone still calm and supportive. Don was scouting out the emergency exists and I was listening to a gentleman share his memory of duck and cover during the Bay of Pigs, I remembered when I was young our drills always included getting under our desks and how silly that seemed right now.
I sent my brother Michael a text message thinking if anyone would be able to get news it would be him. And it was my nephew Lance who found the first news alert telling us this was a false alarm, I put him on speaker so everyone around me could hear what he was saying. At the same moment Lance was talking to us, my daughter Liz was contacting Don that she had found a Twitter message from US Rep. Tulsi Gabbard saying it was a false alarm.
It would be another ten minutes before the official all clear was sent out to the public.
We all had a moment of celebration followed by a moment of quietly taking in the events of the last 30 minutes.
I said a prayer of thanks and hugged Don so tight I that I probably cut off his circulation. We called our children and looked out at the beautiful blue Pacific Ocean, that was eerily quiet.
Back at our hotel the fire alarms started blaring. The hotel was setting them off to let people know that it had been a false alarm. Many people who had not received the initial message were now were coming out of their rooms in a panic wondering what was going on.
I felt bad for the non English speaking guests as the messages were only being given in English, as we walked through the hallways seeing people coming out of their room looking around we tried to help calm them.
The fire alarms stopped for a few minutes and I suppose someone in the office decided they should send the message out in multiple languages, and several minutes later the fire alarms went off again blasting the all clear message in other languages. I think the aftermath all clear was more chaotic then the ballistic missile warning.
Later on the news they were talking about how angry people were that this mistake had happened, and while it caused me a few new gray hairs, I can honestly say it made me appreciate so much more my precious children, family and friends and the wonderful life we have. We never know when our time will end on the earth.
It was not a fun wake up call, but it was a wake up call. So to all my friends and family out, I love each of you and appreciate having you in my life.
You often ponder how you will respond in your final minutes or seconds. You consider different scenarios and thoughts, but it is not until those final moments are upon you, that you realize how you would truly react, I was so proud of Don and how quickly he did his best to prepare us. His confidence made me feel as if Kim Jong-Un had come riding in on that missile we still would have been ok.
It wasn’t until later when it all was over that I thought, wow, that just happened!
Our joke about the event became –
We heard it was rumored that Homer Simpson was at the controls of the Hawaiian Office of Emergency Management when this happened, the last words he was heard saying were…”oooohhh red button!”
I guess we need to be more careful who we have manning those important buttons!