I don’t usually work on Saturday. But I needed the hours this week. I’ve had sort of a rough week. This didn’t really make it any better. Like damn, dude. What timing!
My coworker picked me up just before 8:00am in Aiea and we drove into downtown Honolulu. We were chatting about work, passing the time and enjoying the unusually light traffic. We’re use to the Monday through Friday crush at that time as everyone pushes through the same narrow freeway into the high rises that take up most of downtown, but on Saturday there weren’t many people on the road and it was smooth sailing.
Mid conversation my phone started buzzing and I read the message to myself in my head twice before daring to read it out loud. Then I interrupted her to read the message as calmly as I possibly could. “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”
“Are you serious?” she asked.
“That’s what it says.” I held up my phone for her to read just to make sure I wasn’t making a mistake. She cruised to a stop at a light and read the message herself, then turned the radio on and it was repeating the same horrifying alert.
“What do we do?” she asked. “Do we go to work?”
“Work has a basement.”
“Okay.” It was then she noticed something. “I don’t hear the sirens.”
She rolled down the window and we sat in silence for a moment. None of the eerie alarms that they had started testing back in December were going off yet. This was the sound we thought would come before any strike and it wasn’t happening. Were the sirens failing? We weren’t sure. It was eerily quiet. But our phones and the radio were telling us to seek shelter immediately and we knew where a basement was located so we had to keep going.
We both began setting in motion our own personal lines of communication in the event that we were attacked. My first call was to my roommate, Brittni. It initially went to her voicemail but she called me back and I relayed instructions (get the cats, get in the bathroom, put a mattress against the window, and wait). Brittni’s boyfriend Zach, (my other roommate) was also doing overtime at our same place of work but had arrived a full hour before I did, so I hadn’t yet made contact with him. Worse yet, I didn’t have his phone number. Most of my communication with him was through Brittni so I told her to get in touch with him, tell him to head to the basement and get in touch with me. I told her that I’d take care of him when I found him. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but they are my roommates, coworkers, and friends, so if missiles are headed my way, they are the people I needed to watch out for at that moment. I haven’t known them long, but in a crisis you kind of learn who your family is.
By this time we had pulled into the work parking garage and entered the building. I had gotten Zach’s number and that point and texted him, but hadn’t heard back. My roommate tried to Facetime me at that point, but that’s when the cell phone network became overwhelmed and calls were completely impossible. This is when social media and text messaging became the only way to make contact. I sent my mom a Facebook message telling her I loved her, that there were inbound missiles and I thought I’d probably be okay, but I just wanted to tell her in case things went bad.
The mood in the building at this point was tense, but there was no panic. People were confused, but nobody was screaming or crying. They wanted to get down as far as possible and people that knew the building were guiding those that didn’t know it. There were two good options: the lowest level of the parking garage and the gym yoga room. Both were below street level and had no windows.
Some people stayed on the first floor trying to get cell phone signal and the security guards chatted among themselves about what to do next. They considered making an announcement over the loud speaker One person lurking on the first floor managed to get through as at least one person was having a phone conversation, but most people were doing the infamous ‘hold the phone in the corner of the room and maybe it’ll get a bar’ stance to no avail.
I went to Twitter and unlocked my account and made a dark humor tweet about being about to die.
I’m coming off of private right now because a missile is headed towards me and I might die
— Angel 🏳️🌈 (@angel_ponders) January 13, 2018
At this point I refreshed my feed and saw that it was a false alarm. The alert system had either been hacked or was set off by mistake. I’m not sure. The story is unclear right now. Once we were sure it was a false alarm we hopped on the elevator and went up to work, shaken, but ready to start the day. Who needs coffee? That was more than enough energy to keep us going.
A lot of us locals have been messaging each other to check in on each other. Some are handling it better than others. Some were so distressed that they’re pretty much out of commission for the rest of the day. Some are masking their emotional disturbance with dark humor (hi, that’s me). Some are pretending they weren’t bothered at all. But it’s weird to have everyone looking in on us right now and watching every move we make in the aftermath of this false alarm. Yes, it was scary. Yes, a lot of us freaked out. Yes, we’re doing okay right now but a lot of us are still emotionally distressed so give those who need it some room. And those who need some dark humor? Shoot us a meme or two.
All I know is that I’ve been working for about three hours the best I can but I’m so shaken from what just happened I’m basically just punching through it because life goes on. I had to take a break to write out this post and get it all down in writing before the moment escaped me because this is probably one of the most defining moments of my life and I don’t want details to disappear.
For those of you watching from afar, this is what it was like to live through it. I know a lot of you were curious. Hopefully this helps satisfy your curiosity.