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: