While on vacation in Hawaii, Central Saanich Councillor Alicia Holman was awoken by a high-pitched tone from her cell phone. It was 8:07 a.m. on Jan. 13, the day a false incoming incoming missile alert was sent to everyone in Hawaii.
“I was pretty much in shock and disbelief. I knew it was something to be taken seriously but at the same time feeling … ‘is this a drill?’”
Her first instinct was to determine if the threat was real and if so, how to protect herself. Holman said that while tsunami evacuation routes were well-marked, she did not know where to go in the event of an incoming missile. She turned on the TV to confirm the emergency alert, but saw nothing.
“Basically, I had 15 minutes of panic. Reaching out, trying to see if it was real or not.”
She saw people outside were scrambling. Her husband Gary suggested she call the local police, which she did.
She said she was placed on hold for about 15 minutes. She Googled what she was supposed to do, and learned in her situation, the safest place would be the bathroom away from any windows.
“They immediately said, ‘are you calling about the text alert? It’s a false alarm.”
“It was 15 minutes of expecting the worst, coming to terms to that, and hoping it was false.”
Thirty-eight minutes after the first text, a correction appeared on her phone saying it was a false alarm.
The cell phone alert, which read, ‘BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL,’ was triggered by a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee by accident during a shift change.
After she knew she was safe, Holman took about 15 minutes to meditate and pray for peace, which she said she doesn’t do often. She went to the Kilauea Point Lighthouse and spent some hours there by herself watching the humpback whales and turtles.
She said she was reminded of why she was in politics in the first place. Holman said that while it was important to know what went wrong, it was more important to focus on the larger issue, a peaceful resolution to the brinkmanship between the U.S. and North Korea.
The false alarm was still a topic of conversation in Hawaii, according to Holman, who said the panic of ordinary citizens was on the local news each night. At a drugstore near her hotel, she spoke to a woman who said her goodbyes to her children, and that “it’s a threat [Hawaii residents] live with all the time.”
Holman also said it re-affirmed the importance of emergency preparedness on the Peninsula.
“You can’t live your life in fear.”