The State of Hawaii, my island paradise, went into shock early morning two Saturdays ago.
This heart-stopping alert was texted to all telephones. “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
And the usually low-key, hang-loose population went into panic mode. All they could think of was, “It’s doomsday. Prepare to die!”
For about a half hour, no one had explanations. There were no details.
How would you react if you saw this on your telephone?
I have family and friends in the Aloha state. They saw people run for cover or rush into their cars and drive at breakneck speeds just to get home. Stores closed their doors. Some men and women were seen climbing into manholes with their children. Telephone lines were clogged with calls from people trying to reach family and friends.
“We had no doubt that this was the real thing,” one of them texted. “After months of threats from North Korea, it never entered my mind it could be a hoax. In my heart I hoped it was a mistake. But I thought our alarm systems were flawless.”
I remember several tsunami alerts when we lived in Honolulu. Sirens would go off in the middle of the day or night. We would find our assigned areas for evacuation in the first pages of the telephone book. Thank God we never had to flee.
But this was different. This was a warning received a few minutes ahead of possible total obliteration, and there was no place to hide.
Visitors as well as residents with family in the mainland quickly called to tell them where their valuables were kept, where important documents were to be found, and to say goodbye.
Professional golfer John Peterson, in Hawaii for the 2018 Sony Open, told media that he took immediate shelter under mattresses in the bathtub with his wife, baby and in-laws, praying, “Please, Lord, let this bomb threat not be real.”
It was more than half an hour later that tensions started to ease. A confirmation was finally posted on social media that it was all a mistake.
Hawaii Governor David Ige said, “Human error caused the alert to go out. It was a mistake made during a standard procedure at the changeover of a shift, and the employee pushed the wrong button.”
Officials from State Emergency Management tried to explain. The massive error apparently happened after a longtime employee, in spite of the built-in safety check that asks you, “Are you sure you want to do this?” pushed the button anyway. He only realized his error when he received the warning that he himself had caused to be released.
Apologies and explanations from the state leadership have been profuse: “We deeply regret the mistake was made.” They also assured residents that “safeguards have now been put in place to prevent the same blunder from ever happening again.”
Someone wondered if Washington had suddenly found its “bigger button” and retaliated. Can you imagine a nuclear conflagration ignited by a colossal booboo?
Officials are now wondering why some people never got the alert on their phones. They got the news on the street from panic-stricken people on the run. It did go out to television and radio aside from cell phones. Was there still another glitch?
Saturday’s alert said it was not a drill. It urged people to seek shelter immediately. But it didn’t tell them where to go. How could it? There is no safe place.
Perhaps it should have said, “Hold each other close and say your prayers. This is it!”
A friend tells of his moment of drama. “After I read the message, I went out on the lanai. The ocean never looked as majestic. And I thought, soon it will all be gone. God’s gift to mankind, destroyed by man’s folly.”
From the Big Island, someone wrote, “Of course I am happy it was a mistake. But honestly, it was a wake-up call. I found out how unprepared I am to die, both in practical and spiritual terms. It is time to set my house in order.”
How about us?
Was Saturday in Hawaii only a preview of things to come? How ready are we? God help us.
I heard from Seattle today. My first grandchild tells me this story.
“We finally opened our ‘We are grateful’ jar. It was so special to unfurl each little handwritten note and read aloud some of the things each of us was thankful for in the past year 2017. I loved how most of the notes were about little things that are, in fact, the big things in life.
“But mostly I loved that we practiced looking for all these seemingly little things, daily graces, remembering and naming all our gifts: a sibling’s friendship, sharing stories (many, many stories), laughter, lazy Saturdays, snuggles, sunsets and summers with extended family, the freedom to say sorry, being forgiven. Even the hard times are a gift. My momma’s heart is bursting.
“Amy Voskamp puts it perfectly: ‘There is a way to live the big, of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.’”
Wisdom from a young woman of 42. And once again, at 85, I learn.