spreadsheets and suitcases

organization + travel = family fun

8:07-8:45a, 1/13/18

on January 15, 2018

This screenshot from my cell phone, plus the message, “We just received this message from the Civil Defense.  We are all together in the house.”


That’s what my parents, my sister, and my daughter’s father received from me at 8:12am Saturday.  I had woken up due to the distinctive sounds of the cellular emergency alert- Hawaii residents have heard it quite a few times over the years, due to tsunami warnings, hurricane watches, and flash floods.  I opened my eyes and read it, then stared at the message uncomprehendingly.  It felt like minutes went by but it must have been seconds.  I yelled at my husband to read it, yelled for the children to come to my bedroom, turned on the TV, and sent that message to my loved ones.

After a few moments of chaos in the house, closing the windows and shutting the doors, we all settled into my bed.  We did a short explanation of what was happening to the kids.  I desperately searched the channels for anyone offering more information.  My brain was pushing forth random bits of knowledge: the local news said a few weeks ago that we would have about 15 minutes available if a missile was launched from North Korea and aimed toward Hawaii; that if it were possible to aim such a device precisely, they were split on whether it would head toward the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor with all the military presence or toward Waikiki for maximum loss of life; that if it were nuclear, then all bets were off; that I hadn’t heard the new sirens that went into effect 2 months ago; that I needed to add some things to my “throw in our bag if we have to evacuate” list; that now nearly 10 minutes had gone by and no one was saying a damn thing on TV.  It was 8:22am.

I tried to quiet all these thoughts as I explained to my DD that we had the recommended amount of bottled water and canned food in the apartment, plus a crank radio and candles, and where all those things were.  I told her that our living trust and wills were updated, with my parents and sister having a copy of everything they would need to access our life insurance and other important documents.  I said all this and dimly thought that I could be proud of having done so without breaking down. At first I thought I had started crying, but it was DD.  Her phone was buzzing nonstop, her friends all expressing how much they loved her and each other.

I realized that I hadn’t said “I love you,” in the message to my family.  I decided to do so once some news outlet confirmed this nightmare for me.  I figured I would start with a voice message recorded on WhatApp so the “I love you” could be preserved and uninterrupted.  Then I would call, and go through the whole situation and answer their questions.  It was now 8:27am.

I was mentally writing a script when several things happened.  My husband’s phone started pinging with Facebook messages, screenshots of Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s tweet saying that it had been a false alarm.  My own phone started buzzing with texts to the same effect.  Finally, a local news network interrupted the college basketball game we had muted in the background to report on the story.  They were leading with Gabbard’s tweet, and also expressing surprise that no official retraction/correction had been made, well past the time we would have all been attacked.  People were floating stories of possible hackers to the system, Pearl Harbor-style early warnings that shouldn’t be ignored this time, and impact/fallout survival basics.

Finally, at 8:45am, we received the official “false alarm” message.  It made little impact to my state of mind.  OK, false alarm, but of what?  Had something been in fact launched, but shot down before reaching us?  Was it an asteroid headed our way that set off the warning system on some satellite?  How could this have happened?  Where we just supposed to have a normal Saturday now?

I decided that no one was leaving the house that day, and we cautiously left the bedroom.  I talked to my parents on the phone, and texted my sister on and off.  At one point or another, all 4 of us had splitting headaches.  I made chicken quesadillas for lunch, my son’s favorite “crispy fish” for dinner.  We watched our favorite funny movie, “Big Business,” which contains this line that makes me belly laugh every time.

My son was a little harder to settle for bed that night, needing some music and his sister to be in the room before falling asleep.  I talked to one of my best friends from college on the phone, and she made me feel better by saying that she’s trying to come for a visit sometime this year.  I did some trip research and booked our London hotel (Crowne Plaza- King’s Cross) with IHG points.  There is a Platform 9 3/4 store there in the terminal, plus a fun photo op!  This improved my state of mind.  But I knew the nighttime would be rough.

And I was right.  I was terrified to sleep, thinking about waking up tomorrow to same situation, Groundhog Day style.  I hadn’t cried yet, and was waiting for it to hit me.  I delayed as long as I could, and finally drifted off after 3am.

Today was Sunday, and as it happened, I had a rare weekend day to myself.  DD had a school event for extra credit, and DH/DS were off to watch the Sony Open (a golf tournament).  With my time, I made our weekly bread, cleaned the house a bit, exercised, read, worked on a puzzle, etc.  I was feeling OK.  But it finally hit me as I was washing the dishes.  Reader, I cried.  I sobbed.  It will take a long time for me to come back mentally from holding my kids and husband close while planning the last conversation I would ever have with my parents/sister.  And I was lucky- we were all home!  If this had been a few weeks ago, or a few weeks in the future, we might have all been scattered around town, at baseball games, theatre rehearsals, or work.

All this distress over a warning system that had to be put in place over what amounts to a dick-measuring contest between 2 imbéciles.  

It’s now been confirmed that the whole false alarm thing was down to human error, which occurred during routine testing of the system.  So, now we know it works, which is a positive.  But, should there be a next time, I wonder how many will take it as seriously as they did this time?

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