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Surviving a Ballistic Missile Attack
Hawaii; it has always been my ‘happy place’. I try to visit Hawaii at least once a year to decompress. It has everything I need: surfing, skydiving, warm water and beautiful beaches.
I had just hit the morning surf and was returning to my hotel room to wake my wife. It was just after 8:00 AM on January 13th when my phone began chirping with what I thought was an amber alert. I ignored it, as I entered my hotel room. My wife was already awake and looking at her phone. She said, “You better look at your phone.” That is when I read the alert.
BALLISTIC MISSLE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
I had to read it three times to ensure my eyes were not playing tricks on me. As much as I tried, I could not see the words I was hoping to find – this is a test, or this is a drill. Then it hit me – this was real!
We started getting dressed. I told my wife to put on street clothes and running shoes. I checked the television, and the same emergency alert message was scrolling across the screen. I read and re-read it, hoping it was a mistake.
Oddly, my hotel was not broadcasting any warnings over the PA system. When I went out into the hallway, I noticed several housekeeping carts abandoned outside my door. So I helped myself to two cases of bottled water and spare sheets. I brought these supplies into our room and ran to the lobby and went to the ATM to withdraw $1,000 in cash. I quickly returned to my room and closed the windows and drapes and moved to the bathroom.
Being the Director of Global Response for FocusPoint International, I am responsible for deploying teams to various parts of the world to support clients in crisis. Instead of directing support, I was now going to be right in the middle of it – ground zero.
I attempted to call our Crisis Response Center; a 24-hour operations center staffed with operations support specialists – the nerve center of our global response efforts. Unfortunately, my calls would not go through. The cellular telephone system was already overwhelmed with callers. However, I was able to text the operations center, and I received an immediate response. I sent them a screenshot of the alert and asked them to forward me any information they could. I then sent them my GPS coordinates in case we survived the initial blast, so rescuers would be able to locate us if the building collapsed or was underwater.
I grabbed my IFAK, (Individual First Aid Kit) which I always carry with me, even on vacation. Mine is stocked with trauma supplies: several tourniquets, hemostatic agents, bandages, and wraps. I reminded my wife what was in the kit and went over how to use the tourniquets, etc. I sent a quick text to my kids telling them that their mother and I loved them.
My cell phone chirped with an incoming message. It was from our operations center. It read, “Representative Tulsi Gabbard from Hawaii is reporting that the alert was a mistake. False alarm. You can stand down dude.”
Within 38 minutes, it was over. I hugged my wife, and we began laughing hysterically. Glad to be alive.
Several things to keep in mind when in a crisis:
- The government, other authorities or establishments are not going to be able to help you in the initial hours or days of a crisis. I have seen and experienced it first-hand as a crisis responder. As in this case, the hotel was of no use, as we received no warning or direction.
- Wear sensible clothes. You are going to be climbing out or over rubble. Shorts, flip-flops, high-heels, dresses or swimwear are not advisable.
- The telephone system will be one of the first things to fail. Everyone will be trying to call someone in a crisis. However, text messages use a different channel than voice traffic and take up less bandwidth. All of my text messages got through.
- For those of you who have access to a Satellite Telephone (SATPHONE), I would highly recommend keeping it handy. These devices may work when the landline and cellular telephone systems fail.
- GPS coordinates are the best way for properly trained responders to find you. I carry a GPS unit with me, even on vacation. However, most smartphones have a function that allows you to get your GPS coordinates. The Compass app is free and preloaded on most iPhones.
- In a major crisis, cash is king. Credit cards and ATMs will not be working.
- Having a basic First Aid Kit, even when on vacation might just be a pretty handy thing to have.
- Potable water is a must.
- Not everyone will have a 24-hour operations center to call unless you happen to be a Crisis Assistance Plus (CAP™) member. FocusPoint International offers short-term and annual travel risk memberships that allow you full access to our Crisis Response Center. If you ever need assistance, the Crisis Response Center will be at your fingertips.