What would you do if you believed you only had minutes left to live? It’s a scenario that NBC10’s Vai Sikahema and scores of other residents and tourists in Hawaii went through Saturday morning after an alert claiming a missile was heading toward the island was sent to their phones.
Vai was vacationing with his wife, a native of Hawaii, at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel on Waikiki Beach in Honolulu when he saw the push alert.
“Emergency Alert,” it read. “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII, SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
During an interview with MSNBC, Vai described his initial reaction.
“I quickly then scrolled through my newsfeeds to see if anything had been posted, nothing had been posted,” he said. “I looked outside, just outside our window. There’s a courtyard and there’s people out there doing yoga.”
After noticing that the people outside didn’t appear to be in a panic and likely didn’t know about the alert since they didn’t have their phones, Vai looked at his television and saw another alert during a basketball game.
“They took out the audio from the game and a voice came on that said, ‘This is not a test. Get inside. indoors,’” Vai said.
Vai then turned to his wife and the two had a conversation few would imagine ever having.
“Look, I think we have 15 to 20 minutes tops,” Vai told her. “Let’s call the kids.”
They called Vai’s four children, all in college.
“Of course being millennials none of them pick up their phone,” Vai said. “At that point we decide to send them a group text.”
Vai texted his children letting them know he and their mom were in Hawaii. He then told them where they could find a will as well as their insurance information. Vai’s wife then turned to him.
“Hey, if this is it, I guess there is no better place to go then here in Hawaii and the two of us being together,” she said.
Ever the journalist, even in what he believed were his last moments, Vai then gave us a call here at NBC10.
“In terms of priorities, I called my kids. They’re at the top of my list,” Vai said. “The next call, I don’t know what this says about me, but the next call that went out was to my assignment desk in Philadelphia.”
As an assignment editor with NBC10, John Taylor has received his share of memorable phone calls. But the one he got from Vai Saturday is one he’ll likely never forget.
“Hey I’m in Hawaii,” Vai told him. “If I’m still here in 15 to 20 minutes, call me if you guys want to do a talker or phoner. I’m here. I’ll be under my bed if I’m still alive. I don’t have time right now to answer any questions. I don’t know anything.”
Vai then stepped out of his hotel room and went to the lobby.
“The lobby was filling up because people were coming off the beach,” he said. “There didn’t seem to be a sense of panic.”
Vai soon learned there was substantial panic across Hawaii however when he saw all the reactions on his social media feed. About 13 minutes after the alert was sent, the Hawaii Emergency Management tweeted, “NO missile threat to Hawaii.” Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also tweeted around the same time, “HAWAII - THIS IS A FALSE ALARM. THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE TO HAWAII. I HAVE CONFIRMED WITH OFFICIALS THERE IS NO INCOMING MISSILE."
A correction alert confirming it was a false alarm was later sent to phones.
Cindy McMillan, a spokeswoman for Hawaii Gov. David Ige, confirmed to The Associated Press that it was human error and that someone pressed the wrong button. She said something like this has never happened in the state before and that there will be a press conference to announce new protocols.
While the false alert sparked plenty of confusion and outrage, Vai said the atmosphere seemed relatively calm where he was.
“I think people here, they’ve known for over a year or so that North Korea has the capability to reach Hawaii,” Vai said. “But Hawaiians being Hawaiians, everybody is laid back and nobody seems to be in a state of panic.”
The Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency is launching a full investigation into the false alarm.