On the morning of January 13, 2018, an emergency alert flashed across smartphone screens throughout the state of Hawaii.
I had just gotten to work, busy with the task of opening up the school and didn’t even see or hear the alert come across my phone. It wasn’t until one of my students walked in five minutes later that there was any indication of a problem.
Student: (frightened) Did you get the text message?
Me: What text message?
Student: (Shows me her phone) Are we going to die? I was just at Starbucks and they were screaming at me to get out and go find shelter.
Me: (Squinting) Um, no. I’m sure that’s fake. Hackers or something.
I truly was not worried for a while and made a joke to myself that of course I would die just as soon as I got to work. I wasn’t worried because, well, everything is just so calm in the morning when I open up. Also, having been in the military and keeping myself abreast of North Korea’s capabilities (the only ones who would be shooting at us) I was confident they couldn’t hit the most remote island chain in the world even if they actually had fired a missile. But no one else was showing up to school; everyone else was taking the alert seriously.
Student: (On phone, shakily) Mr. John, I just got this alert…
Me: (Rolling eyes even though I shouldn’t be) I’m sure it’s nothing. I’m looking into it. Do what you’ve got to do in the meantime. I’ll call you back.
Immediately thereafter, I called my wife who had also missed the message to see what she could find out. (There is no television at school.) She was annoyed at having her call with her mother interrupted…
After another few student phone calls I noticed the nuclear attack sirens were not sounding. A client even called in to schedule a service, either unaware of the alert or thinking the student services schedule was about to clear up. I didn’t bother to say anything to the client because why make a potentially bad situation worse? I still wasn’t worried.
Then I got to thinking; did Trump tweet another childish insult and set off Kim Jong Un? I mean, that’s plausible. And although any actual inbound missile would probably, hopefully be shot down before hitting the U.S. (Hawaii is a U.S. state, believe it or not), I wouldn’t be surprised if my resident state were sacrificed in order to get the U.S. into a war. My thoughts immediately turned to my wife and our cats. My student interrupted and remarked that she was about to die alone which I quickly replied that she was technically incorrect since she was with me. Then I breathed a sigh of relief because if the threat were real, there would be nothing we could do. Even if we survived the blast, radiation would kill us in short order. Again, having just gotten to work, it figures. Then I chuckled to myself that it would really suck to have just landed here on your first Hawaiian vacation.
A few minutes later the alert that proclaimed THIS IS NOT A DRILL was deemed an accident – really, the emergency alert system just told approximately two million residents and tourist they were about to die – and we could all go about our business. Students eventually filed in, many visibly shaken and apologizing for being late. Did they really think I wasn’t going to understand? I did my best to console those worst affected. I myself was not.
At least not until later. I woke up in the middle of the night thinking how messed up the whole situation was and it kept me awake for at least an hour. Surely, someone should be fired. (“So, Jack, tell me why you left your last job?”) But we have to take some good away from the situation and recognize how unprepared we all were, not that you really can be prepared for such a thing. But, my wife and I currently have a lot of alcohol in the house thanks to the holiday season. I suppose finally getting rid of that bottle of moonshine wouldn’t be such a bad way to go.
All Rights Reserved (c) January 2018 John J Vinacci