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January 25, 2018

Trouble in paradise

Stamps’ Director of Canadian Scouting Brendan Mahoney (Photo by David Moll)

Brendan Mahoney, the Stamps’ Director of Canadian Scouting, was vacationing with family in Hawaii earlier this month when an emergency warning – later proven to be a false alarm – was issued about an incoming ballistic missile. Here is his account of that harrowing experience:

“We were on our ninth day in Hawaii. We were having breakfast. It was early, about 8 o’clock in the morning. We were on our way to a boat trip, but it got canceled. We had just ordered our food, we were sitting down at the restaurant and the food was literally just arriving at our table. My phone made an alarm sound that I’ve never heard before. It was quite loud. Not only that, but simultaneously everybody else’s phone in this little café went off at the exact same time. So it was a little alarming at first.

“My initial reaction was there must be a storm coming or some big waves because that had been happening the two days before. Lo and behold, I look at my phone and it literally says ‘EMERGENCY ALERT! BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.’ So as I’m reading this, the alarm sound is still going off on my phone and I looked at it and at first I was just stunned and I think the same reaction was felt amongst everybody else in the restaurant who got it. My wife, Kim, she looked over, she didn’t have her phone, ‘Oh what? What’s going on?’  And I kind of thought, ‘How do you tell somebody what you just read?’ So I showed her the phone and we all just kind of looked at each other.

“The best explanation I have about what the reaction was in the restaurant among all the customers was just a moment of stunned silence that seemed like it lasted for five minutes but it was probably only 45 seconds. So we kind of looked at each other and we asked the waitress and the owner of the restaurant ‘Has this ever happened before?’  They said no. They didn’t have their phones so they were kind of just as shocked as we were looking at our phones. Then this woman comes over and she didn’t have her phone and she asked what’s going on. How do tell someone that there’s an inbound missile coming at you? So I showed her the phone and she got quite upset, went outside and that’s when we realized this is potentially real.

“So as we’re sitting there, I’m frantically searching the Internet and Twitter for any type of confirmation or any more information which we couldn’t find. There was literally no information available anywhere besides people saying, ‘Oh did you just get this alert on your phone?’  So we decided maybe we should just leave this restaurant because I think at that moment the level of anxiety amongst all the customers was rising by the minute. And we thought, ‘Well this is it.’ We had two little kids with us, my niece and nephew, who are toddlers, and we didn’t want to alarm them and have people panicking so we paid our bill and actually got the food wrapped up. You’re not quite thinking correctly so we were like, ‘Yeah we’ll wrap the food up, I guess, because we’re not going to sit here and eat it.’

“So yeah, we paid our bill and got up and thought we should get to the house because we were staying at a house about 20 minutes down the road further in the country. We thought, ‘Let’s just see if we can get more information,’ but it was quite terrifying for a couple minutes. Your rational self says we need to find out more information but you kind of think. ‘Is today the day? Is this really going to happen? Is this headed for us or what’s going on?’ So it was a bit harrowing for a little while and then it took about 20 minutes until the Hawaii Emergency Response tweeted out that this was in fact a false alarm. And then another 20 minutes, so 40 minutes total, when we got an official message on our phone again, which made the same terrifying noise, that is was a false alarm. The nerves were frayed a bit on that drive back. The worst thing was not knowing where to go or what was going to happen for those 20 harrowing minutes.

“You kind of go through every scenario. If the missile does hit, how are we going to get out of here? There’s a small airport just from down the road where we were staying and we thought what if we get a helicopter but then we realized we’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a helicopter isn’t going to get your very far. And then we were thinking if you have to evacuate, how do you evacuate by boat? And Kauai is a relatively small island. There’s really only one highway to the airport so we thought this could turn into a nightmare. But like I said, those are all thoughts that kind of enter your mind and you try to think rationally and try to stay as calm as possible on the outside even though on the inside you might not be as calm.

“Luckily, everything was fine but to have some thoughts, ‘Is today the day?’ was definitely harrowing but we managed to stay calm. We wanted to keep calm for the kids who were with us, keep my wife calm, my sister and so we managed to get through it, but it was an interesting day. A nice cold beer on the patio when we got home tasted quite nice.

“A lot of people from the mainland reached out and were just empathizing with us. Everybody kind of expressed the same concerns and questions. What did you do? How did you feel? And people who were thinking about us and how legitimately terrifying that would be. And I think people were trying to put themselves in our situation. We were trying to let everyone know we were OK.  So that was the nice part to hear from family members and friends and one of the nice parts of social media is you’re able to put up a picture and say everything’s fine and we’re still here in paradise.  Hawaii is such a beautiful place to be, to have something like that happen to you wasn’t the greatest but we managed to make the best of it. We hit the beach that day and just enjoyed ourselves and tried to enjoy the rest of the trip. Maybe the rest of that day Saturday, at least Saturday afternoon, it took a little while to get the nerves back down to earth.

“We were there for two more days. We left on Monday. It definitely put a damper on the rest of that day. But we were with family and we all got together and talked about it, talked a lot about it. So it was fortunate that we were with people we love and a bonus that we didn’t have to say our final good-byes.”