Hawaii ballistic missile alert: A first-hand account from our CEO

Hawaii ballistic missile alert
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By Terry Bruns

On Saturday, January 13th, 2018, I had the unenviable opportunity to experience firsthand the uncomfortable feeling of dread associated with potentially being within the blast effect of a thermonuclear bomb.

At around 7:30 AM, my girlfriend and I started to hike up the trails within the dormant volcano, Diamond Head, located on the east side of Honolulu, Hawaii. Near the summit of the volcano was a long tunnel through parts of the crater wall. As we approached the entrance to the tunnel, we noticed a lot of fellow hiker’s phones were going off simultaneously. My phone was in flight mode at the time, so I did not receive an alert.

Emergency alert

When we came out of the tunnel on the other side, a small group was gathered near the tunnel exit point. I asked a lady beside me what was happening. She showed me her phone. On the display was a message that read: “Emergency Alert – BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” She looked visibly shaken and said that she just texted her brother who works for military intelligence in San Francisco. She said that he was aware of the threat and that they were working on it. The threat appeared to be credible.

Without knowing how much time we had until impact or where the target was, I decided we should remain within proximity to the tunnel entrance (a few steps), figuring if Honolulu or more likely, Pearl Harbor was the target, that the crater wall and tunnel should provide a certain amount of protection from the blast effect.

Considerations in the event of a catastrophe

While a few people were booking it down the trail back to the park entrance, most people just stayed put – not sure if they came to the same conclusion that I did and that the crater was a good place to be or if they were in denial. After reassuring my girlfriend that we would be okay, I started to think about the aftermath if Honolulu was the target.

A few of many things that I needed to consider if we survived the initial blast:

  1. Accompanying a nuclear detonation would be an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) which would immediately and most certainly knock out the power grid and most electrical/electronic equipment attached to the grid. It may also fry cheap consumer electronic components in the area. Communications would be non-existent as well as any services that required power such as hospitals, airports, utilities (water pumping stations). Fortunately, automobiles are not as vulnerable to EMP, but service stations to fill your gas tank would be.
  2. Radioactive fallout would be an issue, but prevailing winds (trade winds) should carry that radioactive dust out to sea.
  3. Shelter/food/water – Without communications, guidance as to where community shelters would be established and how to get there would be difficult to ascertain.
  4. Logistics – With the airport affected, help would have to come from other parts of the island or by boat from the surrounding islands. Getting away from the impacted area would be a priority, but without communications or transportation infrastructure, we would be doing this on foot. Without communications, how would we alert our families of our status?
  5. Money – If the electrical grid was down, my credit cards would be of limited use unless a vendor was okay with taking the credit card number manually and hope that I wasn’t over my limit. Thanks to the convenience of credit cards and Interac, few people, including myself do not carry much cash.

These were just some of the things that were going through my mind as we were inside a dormant volcano waiting to be potentially vapourized. The walk away from this experience was in addition to the threats that we cover today in our facility emergency response protocols, a thermal nuclear detonation response for building occupants will most definitely be considered in the next plan update.

For more info on what officially happened, refer to the following link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2018_Hawaii_false_missile_alert.

Terry Bruns is the CEO of WPS Disaster Management Solutions.