By Jenalyn Camagong
On Saturday January 13, 2018 I woke up at 7:50am to start my day. I was so excited to get up from bed because my fiance and I were scheduled for our engagement photoshoot in the afternoon. We had been looking forward to this day. Then, a little after 8:00am, my phone went off with that annoying sound of the emergency alert. When I first heard the alert, I thought “O no, we’re gonna have a flash flood warning.” But I looked outside of my house, and it was sunny and the sky was clear. As soon as I reached over my phone to check it out, it wasn't a flash flood warning, it was the worst than that. Instead, it was a notification that said, in all caps:
“A BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT IS INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
My heart was pounding and my mind went blank as I tried to process this message. Our little plantation style home in Aiea wouldn’t withstand the blast, especially living a couple miles near the Pearl Harbor Military Base. I assumed that location would be one of the targets based on past history of it being attacked. I heard my dad knocking on my sister’s door to wake her up, my brother-in-law, and the kids to let them know about the incoming missile. My fiance got out of bed and rushed out of the room, and looked at me with terror and sadness in his eyes. My mom who just arrived at her worksite at Waianae called my dad and said her employers sent their workers home. I was worried for my mom, she was starting to panic and she was crying over the phone. I was scared for her because she has a history of anxiety attacks and I was worried that while she was driving that she won't be able to focus on the road. Who knows how everyone else would be driving. The whole time, we stayed with her on the phone because we knew she won't be home before the missile landed.
While all that was happening, I was reflecting on my life. I was thinking about the future I was building, my career, and my education. I was looking forward to the events that were coming up; I will be getting married this year, I will be graduating next year, and moving out of my parent’s home the same year I graduate with my MSW. I was also thinking about my family, friends, and loved ones. I looked at my fiance and I told him “this is it, this is how we’re all gonna die.” I looked at my dog and I all I could do was hug him.
We were flipping through news channels but there was nothing about the missile! The sirens didn’t go off either, I started getting a bit skeptical, but I was still scared. My fiance called his stepfather and that’s when I heard the sirens sounded then it stopped. After my fiance got off the phone, he told us that his stepfather found out it was a mistake. Then we went through our social media accounts and a lot of people were also saying it was a mistake. I had so many mixed emotions at that time. I was upset. I was glad to hear it was a mistake, but I was still scared because I wanted officials to confirm whether it was a mistake or not. Finally, 38 minutes after the emergency alert went off on our phones, there was news coverage and it was confirmed that the alert was indeed a mistake. I was relieved that there was no missile heading towards us but I was still upset that it took over half an hour to inform us that a worker at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency had pressed the wrong button.
After watching the news, I had so many mixed emotions trying to process all what had happened that morning. I reflected on my life. I realized that my family was not prepared for a missile attack or any emergency situation such as an earthquake or a tsunami. We had not stored extra food, water, and batteries. This experience convinced me that we should be prepared because we don’t know when emergencies will happen. We were not aware of the places or buildings that are open for us to seek shelter in any emergency situation. During the missile alert, some businesses were opening their doors to allow people to seek shelter while other businesses were evacuating people out of their property. This whole experience made me sensitive to hearing emergency alerts.
Testing of the siren for emergencies happen every first day of the month. I was at the NASW Hawai’i chapter office when the test sirens sounded this month. Sonja, Holly, and I jumped a bit when the siren went off and we realized it was only a test. What does this tell us? My story is only one of many. We experienced a traumatizing event together in the State of Hawai’i. There will be people who are going to be skeptical when they receive emergency alerts because the mistake damaged some of the people’s trust in the system. How is this experience related to the social work field? Many of us were traumatized by this experience which magnifies the importance of mental health. Mental health is one of many concentrations in the social work field and can be seen at the micro, mezzo, and macro level. The false missile alert affected people at different levels whether it may be an individual, a community, and at the national level.