Terror in Paradise: I Got the Hawaii Missile Message and Prepared to Die

Something must be done. Not just about the flawed warning system in Hawaii, but about a world in which nations are poised to destroy each other with barely a moment's notice.

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

KAUAI, HAWAII—Somewhere deep in sleep, dreaming I am at work... why did everyone leave their phones in the office?... then I feel my wife's foot tickling me... stop it... then: ALERT! LOUD! What's that? Turn off your alarm, I think.

My wife leans over and shows me her phone, which displays a dull black and grey EMERGENCY ALERT reading “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

It's 8:08 on a Saturday morning. I bolt out up and out of bed, think what everyone else across Hawaii must be thinking: “WTF?!”

Instinctively I rush to the kitchen, passing my 13-year-old son who is sitting on the couch in the living room, holding his phone (typical) presumably playing a game. I rush to check my work phone on the kitchen counter, scrolling through Twitter to see similar disbelief from other people on Oahu.

I know the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency has said Hawaii would have 12-15 minutes warning. It's 8:11. WTF?

My wife is scrambling. Radio. Is there a radio up here?

"My friend got it too," my son says from the other room, speaking of the alert warning.

I am looking at two iPhones, two Twitter feeds. More disbelief. Is this a mistake? What?

Water. We need water. There's water in the kitchen. In my mind I am swearing. In my mind, lots of Fs.

I start closing doors, windows. We have in a single family wooden house in Lihue on the island of Kauai. Closing doors and windows seems like a joke. What am I doing?

It's 8:14.

"Get in the bathroom, c'mon." My wife is fumbling with the radio. I am now in the bathroom filling up the bathtub. I see the neighbor's cat at the window on the lanai looking in.

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My wife has brought a thin blanket into the bathroom. Water is filling the tub. I turn on at transistor radio and scroll for something that isn't static, music or noise. I check for more information on Twitter. I see nothing about a North Korean launch. I see lots of tweets but only the people in Hawaii are tweeting about the alert. They are in disbelief. There is a sense of panic.

What do I do? Call my family on the mainland? Parents and siblings in Washington, Colorado? No time.

It's 8:27.

I know this could be the end of my life. Or not. The tub is filling with water. My wife and son are seated on the bathroom floor, the most protected room in the house, I suppose. But the thought this wooden could protect us is laughable but I know there is no time to go anywhere. In my mind I debate running into the garage to grab water bottles to bring into the bathroom. Do I stop at the fridge and get food?

Finally some useful but unwelcome information on the radio: "There is an incoming missile warning for the islands of Kauai and Hawaii."

Is this happening? I have no time to call anyone. No time to get water. The tub continues to fill. I look at my wife and son. He looks at me, scared. I try to smile. If there is a missile strike, a blast of any kind, we are toast. It's almost pointless to search for batteries, duct tape and canned tuna. This is it.


I see another tweet. False alarm? It's a false alarm, I say. Again—WTF?

My legs are shaking. "It's a false alarm," I repeat. You can stand up. Stop the tub.

More disbelief. What is this?

Outside the sky is filled with bright light, it's morning. But it's not a thermonuclear morning. I am in disbelief. Did this just happen?

Then a message comes in from Twitter: I'm seeing on Twitter an alert went out about an inbound missile saying this is not a drill/text. I assume it's erroneous. Let me know?"

I sit down to open the computer and record my thoughts. Suddenly a second alert from the phone.

False alert message from the Hawaii EMA. The missile warning siren that Hawaii has recently begun testing does not sound.

Now it's 8:48 a.m. and my phone rings again. I answer. A robovoice says: "This is the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. There is no active threat and no action is needed at this time. The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency is investigating this false alarm. Please do not call 911 unless you have an emergency."

So this is what it feels like to believe that you could have a nuclear bomb or an incoming missile about to destroy your world.

It's not a good feeling. Something must be done. Not just about the flawed mobile warning system in Hawaii but about a situation in which this scenario is even plausible, but about a world in which nations are poised to destroy each other with barely a moment's notice and bring about the end of life on this planet.