When Your Day Starts with a #$%*^$% Ballistic Missile Alert

I’m sitting here trying to figure out what to feel.

About an hour and a half ago, as I was making a pot of tea after doing the morning chores, my cell phone starting blaring the way it does when there is a civil defense message.  Usually these are flood warnings but it was a bright and sunny morning in the middle of a drought so I was a bit puzzled.

I picked up my phone and there was the message BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. TAKE IMMEDIATE SHELTER.  THIS IS NOT A DRILL.  Yeah. Nice. Fuck. 

One part of you just wants to say: well, what’s the point of taking shelter, if it really hits there is nothing that will save you.  Plus, this can’t really be happening right? Right?

Then the other part kicks in and says: I want to live. I want my daughter to live. Then the other part says: yes but do you really want to live if everything you love is dead? Then you start thinking about shelter.

We’re already inside a house but its a frail wooden contraption with lots of windows.  It’s not much shelter when you think about fireballs.  Is there time to get to a more sturdy shelter?? What is happening?  My brother has a solid concrete semi-bunker sort of building but it’s a 40 minute drive away.  Try calling the brother.  The phone doesn’t seem to working. Probably jammed with everyone calling everyone.  Shelter…. There are a lot of caves and lava tubes in the vicinity of the house.  Think of the nearest one.  Get in the truck with the daughter and the dogs.  Just go.  Hopefully this is all a big joke.  But let’s not assume anything.  Nothing on the newspaper websites.  Phone line is busy at the Civil Defense office. Nobody picks up at the Police Department.  Drive to the cave.  No follow up messages.  Maybe there is no missile?

But let’s just do this thing.  Climb down in the cave.  Think about how the cave could collapse on you if it really happened.  Listen to the water dripping off the cave ceiling and look at the way the walls of the cave are sculpted in a purple pattern like wind over water.  Wait.  Think.  Daughter is playing solitaire on her phone.  No cell phone reception in the cave of course.  Wait a bit more.  Tell daughter:  “Well,this is going to be interesting however it turns out, but the best case scenario is that somebody messed up and sent out that alert by accident.” She says, “Yeah.” Climb out of cave to get cell reception.  Finally there’s a story in the Washington Post saying that it was a false alert. Breathe again. Drive home.

Not sure if I’m happy that I’m not going to be blown up today or really, really angry or if I’m going to cry.  All of it.  And my brother is teasing me about needing to stock my cave.  I might do that actually.  I’m traumatized, is the truth. Who to blame for this and how did it happen? Does blame even begin to cover this?  Aren’t we all to blame for allowing ourselves to get to this point, where this was even feasible?  What is wrong with us??  It is all so not funny.

9 Replies to “When Your Day Starts with a #$%*^$% Ballistic Missile Alert”

  1. June and I went into a 40’ steel container. But, no electricity, no water and no reception. Spent a really long 15 minutes inside. With the door cracked. Heard that if it was a real warning, we would have to shelter ourselves for a week and a half. So, much for the container idea. We humans are idiots!

    1. Richard, welcome! As it turns out I spent way too much time getting to the cave, so that wasn’t a good idea either.
      I think we learned something very visceral about these weapons that we have created. Perhaps I was complacent before. Nuclear weapons should not exist. That they exist is an example of how we have gone down a wrong path.
      Take care, Michelle

  2. Michelle,
    I for one am glad it was an accident, that you are still on the planet. I heard about the event on last night’s evening news. It was hard to believe that someone could have made such a terrible mistake. I’m sure with all the stories about North Korea testing missiles and Trump tweeting stupid responses, a message saying “ballistic missile inbound Hawaii” would not seem far fetched. I think your response was pretty intelligent.

    I wondered what had happened to you and I appreciate your sharing of thoughts and feelings. When the improbable seems probable we are all faced with the reality that we have not prepared, are not prepared for what is or might be happening. Can we ever be prepared for every eventuality? I wonder how many people in Hawaii will be building bomb shelters as a result of this incident.
    I agree with Richard, humans are idiots. We live as if tomorrow will be the same as today, all our plans will come to pass, and then a day arrives and we are suddenly forced to realize our plans are not going to unfold. We have wasted our time looking in the wrong direction. We are caught unprepared.
    We control nothing at the end. So, live each day as if it will be the last is good advice for all of us. What puny things our daily problems really are in the face of an inbound ballistic missile attack!
    Take care of yourself and your family. Post traumatic stress disorder manifests in strange ways.

    1. Thanks much, Jody.
      As you know, I’ve been around some disasters lately such as the wildfire in September that burned up 800 acres of pasture, but yesterday’s experience was on a whole other level, even though nothing “real” happened. When you find yourself calculating survival strategies for nuclear fall-out for your child as a practical thing with a deadline of minutes that scorches your brain and heart.
      Afterwards there were still the dishes that needed washing and the family to check in with, and you make jokes and carry on. But there is a difference. As John says below, this is how we made other people feel, as we dropped bombs on Baghdad and Mosul and wherever else we are doing it right now. And as Clem says, we have a grave responsibility as citizens to become political activists, even if that means getting outside our comfort zone.

  3. Michelle –
    Thanks for sharing this. Writing about it might be cathartic, and if it helps at all in that direction then I pray it takes you as far as possible.

    Right off the top I think of a couple things – and while neither is much salve for present strife they might be worth reflection once the heart returns to a more normal rhythm.

    First – accident or not – as Judy points out there are international developments already in place that make this a too serious concern. And I agree that present personalities with access to triggers only make this worse. But we all should take an opportunity now to look in a mirror and see whether we, as citizens, have a responsibility to help dial back the threat. This is the very sentiment I see in your last paragraph:
    Does blame even begin to cover this? Aren’t we all to blame for allowing ourselves to get to this point, where this was even feasible? – Yes, we are all to blame.

    Second – the cry wolf scenario. Most of us appreciate the fable of the boy who cried wolf. It is human nature to fall prey to continued bombardment of warnings that pile up without coming to fruition. Where does this present mistake land on a spectrum of bloody concern? I for one am not checking out plans for a bomb shelter at this moment… but I could well understand this approach for everyone in Hawaii. Provisioning the cave seems a fair step.

    Here in the U.S. we have another round of elections in the fall. And while there are lots of things we can and should concern ourselves about, chief among many would be to do what we might as citizens and inform ourselves and our government representatives that this must change. Political activism is a responsibility in our democracy. I’ve always participated in voting. But perhaps activism requires more than paying one’s taxes and casting one’s ballot.

    Thanks for sharing these feelings.

  4. What a sobering experience.

    At least you’ve got a cave.

    Can’t think what we’d do here. Brick house, big windows, no cellar. Probably just curl up with nearest and dearest and figure out how to pray.

    1. What I’ve learned (to mangle the old proverb about planting trees): the best plan would be multi-lateral nuclear disarmament twenty years ago, the second best plan is to shelter in place.

  5. Michelle an den, I got the alert and thought “fuck they did it”, then quickly called Velvet who was in Kona for the night, told her I loved her and hoped we would meet again soon. Told her enjoy what’s left of the day. I then looked at Benny our dog and said “what a truly beautiful day it was, so rich in color and texture up here on the Mountain in an Ohi`a forest”. How wonderful my life has been; ups and downs included and that I may be gazing on the last of it. I was ok, felt at peace with what was in the moment. I have always had the understanding that there is no running away from a Nuclear Strike. If not incinerated in the first moments then we can look forward radiation poisoning. You know our teeth falling out when we cough.
    It was when I found out that this in fact was not my last day on the planet that other thoughts flooded in. Such as, how other people around the world have felt when we have sent Cruise missiles or drone attacks on unsuspecting people just like us yesterday. The President of the United States talking about having a bigger button than the Leader of North Korea and his works! What a lack of respect for the sanctity of life on the planet; the base ignorance of it all. Sewage systems around the State of Hawaii in the early stages of contaminating our water aquifers and reefs, citizens of Hawaii forced into economic refugee status leaving for America due to the high cost of living and unavailability of affordable housing. The fact that at any one time in the State of Hawaii there is only two weeks of food supply in our State. Our land is to valuable to grow food on??!! Who is going to pay for sewage up grades??! There were supposedly 129 school teachers short this school year across the State this school year. I ask; where the hell are we going??
    I apologize if I have offended some, it was to get to this point; The Silver Lining of the false Incoming Ballistic Missile Strike, this is not a test. We all each and everyone of us were given a brief glimpse of what if there is no tomorrow, what would I do different, what is really important in life. We should use this opportunity to begin addressing what is important to the collective community. Where do you see civilization for your children in the next say twenty years. A world that cooperates that has compassion for fellow humans or a world that lives under the threat of yesterdays Incoming Ballistic Missile this is not a Drill. I for one am willing to lend a helping hand to anyone in need.

  6. John and all,
    Your calmness facing what you thought would be the end was inspiring. You and Michelle both feeling righteous anger about nuclear weapons (among other pressing issues for Hawaii) might create an epicenter for change. I have long been in favor of denuclearization. If some positive changes came out of this it truly would be a silver lining.

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