Students streamed from their hales and houses in search of cover while car horns could be heard honking around Laie after the Hawaii emergency alert system sent out a mistake message at 8 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 13 that read: “BALLISITIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
Hannah Williamson, a freshman from Minnesota studying education, was on the bus on her way to go hiking when she got the notification.
“My stomach dropped, but I felt pretty calm. First thing I did was close my eyes and say a quick prayer,” Williamson said.
Since Williamson was riding the bus when she received the news, she explained, “We stopped the bus, got off, and decided to find shelter.” After her and her friends stopped to offer a prayer, she said, “A lady gave us a ride back to campus.”
Once Williamson got back on campus, she felt calm “because the grounds here are set apart.” As she headed with her friends to the HGB, she called her dad to give him the news.
“My dad said, ‘I had a feeling to tell you not to go on the hike, but I didn’t because I figured you knew what you were doing.’”
Williamson explained the panic of the event to those who didn’t understand the stress.
She said, “It was only 40 minutes, but it was 40 minutes where everyone thought they were going to die.”
Kinsey Brown, a senior from California majoring in biomedicine, was at work at Kualoa Ranch and described her experience as traumatic.
“I was in the middle of what we call a briefing tour. I was right in front of the ticket office at the ranch, and I kept hearing everyone’s emergency alerts going off. And I remember looking in the sky thinking, ‘That’s weird? It’s really sunny today. There can’t be a flash flood.’”
While Brown was initially unaware of the situation at hand, she quickly found out. “A lady ran up to me and she grabbed my arm and she was crying and shaking me and said, ‘There’s a missile coming to Hawaii. We need to find shelter.’ That’s when I got the alert on my phone.”
Brown’s stomach dropped, and she felt confused. She said, “I didn’t really get a moment to process, ‘Is this real or not?’ because I was the worker. They just assumed that I knew what was going on, and so I tried to remain super calm.”
Struggling to keep a calm demeanor, Brown said, “I remember seeing my boss’s face and she was just like, ‘What the heck?’”
Other visitors who were not guests at Kualoa Ranch were guided to bunkers on the ranch.
Brown recalled, “We got all of the buses, all of the ATV’s and got them up there.
“We had 300 people at the ranch that morning, and we have 300 workers, and we were able to get everyone up to the bunker in 10 minutes. It was really crazy because we’ve never had a drill before.”
Though managing to stay calm, panic rushed over Brown as she was finally able to get ahold of her mom. Brown explained, “She started panicking, so that’s when I finally began to freak out because at this point when I finally got ahold of my mom, I was already on a bus.”
Brown seemed not to be the only one feeling waves of fear. She explained, “There’s different gates on the property, but they had opened them up to locals too.
“John Morgan, the owner of Kulaoa Ranch, said that people were climbing over the fence to try and get on the property. They were trying to get to the bunkers.”
Looking back on her experience, Brown said, “It was crazy because it was such a beautiful day, but it was so quiet. There were no cars going on Kam Highway.”
Not everyone had such a fearful experience, but Brown said she felt the severity of the event.
She explained, “I was mad going to church the next day because people were just joking about it. People said, ‘Oh I just like went back to sleep,’ and like, ‘I didn’t even care.’ We have to act even if it’s fake or not because if it’s not, were all going to regret it.”
Brown reflected, “It was emotionally draining. It’s definitely something I don’t want to go through again. My workplace has even offered a therapist to talk to people.”
For Jon Keith, a former student from California, being on the mainland and worrying about his friends in his “second home” was also a terrifying experience.
Having attended BYUH for a semester until he received a mission call, he said he feels a connection to the people here. Keith heard about the threat through social media and reasoned, “It sounded like something we would expect. I thought, ‘This is crazy but also predictable.’ When I heard it was fake, I thought that was a ridiculous mistake to make.”
While the missile threat was fake, Keith mentioned, “It was a good drill because we have never been put in a situation like this and now we have to think about it and take action.
“I think people now realize that this is a reality. It’s something we have to expect with all the political conflicts.” Hoping that citizens will take action and prepare, Keith continued, “Maybe people will start thinking of hiding from a bombing.”
While Keith worried for his friends in Hawaii, he wants action to be taken. He stated, “You’re on an island and there’s not much you can do in that situation other than say your prayers and wait to see what happens.”
Like Brown, some Hawaii residents are wondering and worried about what protection is offered. In response to these worries, General Bruce Oliveira, a member of the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (HEMA), gave a presentation on Jan. 19 about how to prepare in the event of a ballistic missile attack.
Oliveira shared his own experience from the false warning. “I had just finished a swim on Saturday morning. Usually I go out a little bit later, but I was early. I was on my way home and I got that message. I was about two minutes away from home.
“At that point, I wanted to call [HEMA], but I knew they were just dealing with so much going on. I didn’t want to get involved in that. I just wanted their focus to be on what needed to get done.”
Shedding light on what action to take, Oliveira said, “The right thing to do at that point is just seek shelter. Get in there and wait for official notification. The right thing to do is to seek cover until you get official word. You need to wait for official word to come out.”
NOTE: This article's online publication was delayed because it was featured in the Feb. 2018 print issue.