Hawaii’s Ballistic Missile Alert—A Year Later


A year ago, prior to all the Facebook posts that would spread on my timeline like wildfire… I got a call from my mom. Since we moved off island, she almost never calls me during the early parts of morning, and we were in San Diego at the time so it was three hours earlier on Oahu. 

She must’ve just started work, I figured. She works at one of Hawaii’s biggest and best inter-island shipping companies across the channel from Pearl Harbor. 

When I picked up, her tone was different.

“Baby? I wanna let you know that I love you, okay? We all love you and Ben and Tim. So much.”

I immediately began to tear. Growing up in Hawaii, with the enormous military presence there and my own father being a lifetime Airman… From a young age, we were educated on the rare but possible dangers of living in that area of paradise. That Hawaii and Guam alike will always be targets for our enemies. 

I grabbed the wall. “What are you talking about?” I began to shake with anger as my mom started talking to her coworkers off the phone receiver. “Hey,” I yelled furiously into my cell, and Tim was yelling at me from inside the shower because I wasn’t answering him what was wrong. “Mom stop fucking around and talk to me. What is happening?”

“We all got an emergency notification on our cellphones. We just got it. There is a ballistic missile sent our way.” 

Her voice was calm, but stern. She didn’t sound panicked, though people—her coworkers, people I’d known since i was very small—were shouting in the background.

I stopped crying and began to reason with hard logic. It must be a weird survival trick of the mind, I don’t know. “One of them? One missile? That thing can’t wipe out the whole island, though. Where are you—are you taking shelter?”

“We are five minutes away from Pearl Harbor, Bri. And there will be radioactive fallout… I don’t know… we’re all gathering together in the warehouse for a mandatory emergency meeting.”

“Yeah, but—“

“I have to go okay? But I wanted to tell you i love you and i have always loved you, even if we fought sometimes. I have to call your father and your sisters now, ok? They called me, I need to call them back. Baby I will see you again, ok?”

My dad retired three years ago, and was probably scrambling to get my three younger sisters ready for the day. I wondered what he was telling them, after seeing his own notification pop up on his newly acquired iPhone. How do you tell children this is happening?

I asked Tim how long it would take a missile to reach Hawaii from North Korea. His jaw dropped slack, and I repeated the question, teeth bared.

10-15 minutes.

There was so much family to call. I have a stepdad who has three of my sisters. Then I had my biological father who was at work ON Pearl Harbor… I had another sister across the island, who lived on the opposite side of the mountain chain, who probably would be safe. She was pregnant with our niece—would there even be hospitals left for her to give birth at?

At least I’d have one living sibling. At least we could go through this together.

I ran to Tim, starting to feel delirious. He guessed what my mom had told me by now; he looked numb, too. 

“Baby, I need to go, please I need to buy a plane ticket, please—“

“Into what airport?” He answered me quietly. 

My stomach roiled with nausea. I should be there with my sisters, I’m the oldest out of all of them. I should be there to hold them tight as the missile struck. 

Most of all, I wished I was there instead of my mom. Wished some random business venture had flown her out to Washington State, where her job has relations with another company. And I wished I could take her place. 

That was the last horrible thought that went through my mind before my mother called me back. The phone rang maybe half a second before I answered. 

“Baby? Bri? It was a mistake.” She still sounded shaken.

“What? The missile or the… what was a mistake?”

“The notification. We’re okay. It was a mistake, someone pushed the emergency button. I love you, okay? I have to go because I need to call your dad again. I’ll call you on my way home. Just wanted to let you know.”

Hawaii has always been but a blip on the American radar. Honestly, some people don’t even consider it part of the United States. Following this event, it angered me that this incident didn’t make bigger headlines—probably for safety reasons, and that’s okay. That day, I learned that there would be nothing possibly done to stop a missile headed for my home island. That people were scrambling and didn’t know what to do; I hope to God this is a wake up call for them, that they dust off the old WWII bunkers and mountainous tunnels for shelter.

That day, for ten whole minutes the small universe surrounding Hawaii and it’s people believed that the entire island might be wiped off the face of the earth, catapulting us into another world war. And I was reminded catastrophically how far I was from my mother and family—but that i loved them fiercely, beyond the ends of time. 

Panoramic view of Honolulu city, Waikiki and Diamond Head from Tantalus lookout
Panoramic view of Honolulu city, Waikiki and Diamond Head from Tantalus lookout

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