What was intended to be a relaxing family vacation to Maui took a startling turn for Sacramento resident Sage Smith, co-owner of Bike Dog Brewery, Saturday morning after he and other cellphone users throughout Hawaii received a faulty emergency alert warning of a ballistic missile headed their way.
The message, which came with instructions to seek immediate shelter and a sentence telling recipients that the threat was real, sent people throughout the state into a state of panic. It also amplified fears of a nuclear war between President Donald Trump and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un.
For Smith, 37, the incident forced him to prepare for an emergency situation while in an unfamiliar place and with little food or clothing.
“All these things are racing through your head that you’ve never had to deal with because you don’t live in a war zone,” Smith said. “The ‘This is not a test’ was the scary part. You don’t put that in on an accident.”
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Smith arrived to the island the night before, accompanied by his wife and several of his extended family members, he said. It was on Saturday morning, as he was stepping out of the shower, that Smith saw a panicked text message from his wife telling him to head to a family member’s nearby condo, where they were gathering. Also on his phone was the emergency notification.
Once he arrived to the condo, he saw that family members had filled sinks and bathtubs full of water. He and his family anxiously scanned Twitter and news stations, hoping to hear any news about the missile.
Back in Sacramento, Sydney Zuelke, a 24-year-old Sacramento resident who works at the Golden 1 Center, got word about the missile during a phone call from her mother. Her parents and her two younger siblings live on the island of Oahu and were filling up jugs of water. Her parents contemplated driving to a nearby military base, where they both work, but decided to stay in the home instead and possibly hide in the closet.
“She told me that she loved me and that’s when it really freaked me out,” Zuelke said. “That’s when it was real.”
Both Zuelke and Smith said they found out that the missile threat was not real after seeing Twitter posts from Hawaii politicians denying that the state was in harm’s way.
Officials with the Honolulu Department of Emergency Management confirmed that the threat was not real in a tweet of their own, later saying in a press conference that the wrong button was pushed during a shift change.
“If there’s anything positive to come out of it, I know my mom is now going to have a plan for this,” Zuelke said Saturday afternoon. “I’m still shaking from it.”