Sumter native recounts Hawaii missile alert error

Valerie Barnes witnesses panic, anger on military base

BY KAYLA ROBINS
kayla@theitem.com
Posted 1/16/18

Valerie Barnes and her husband, who is stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu, were getting ready to go to the gym with their four kids, just like they do every Saturday. Then his phone buzzed. The next 38 …

This item is available in full to subscribers

Sumter native recounts Hawaii missile alert error

Valerie Barnes witnesses panic, anger on military base

Posted

Valerie Barnes and her husband, who is stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on the Hawaiian island of O'ahu, were getting ready to go to the gym with their four kids, just like they do every Saturday. Then his phone buzzed. The next 38 minutes were unlike every other Saturday.

The emergency alert mistakenly sent to more than a million people's cellphones across the islands on Saturday caused panic and confusion across Hawaii. People reacted in different ways, from sheltering where they were to getting in the car to trying to find a nearby store.

"BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."

Barnes walked outside.

"I was like, what do I do?" she said. "I knew a newer Air Force wife who had just moved here on Sunday. All week, I had been telling her we're completely safe, nothing's going to happen. If they were going to hit us, they'd hit the mainland first, why hit Hawaii? It's just Hawaii."

Barnes knew they had about 15 minutes. They had no time to get anywhere off base.

She was outside trying to calm the new military wife who was new to Hawaii down. Her kids, who are 11, 9, 6 years old and 16 months old, started playing video games.

"Krista [the oldest] saw it on her phone, and they heard the warnings," Barnes said.

Barnes took a screen shot of the emergency text and sent it to her mother and mother-in-law.

Under it, she typed, "Do not call." She knew they needed to keep their phone lines open, which stopped working in the almost 40-minute chaos anyway.

"We were getting ready to go eat lunch," said her mother, Karen Cave. We're driving down the road, and I'm driving, so my husband's reading it to me. There was hardly any messages going back and forth. I knew it wouldn't be her joking, but I wasn't next to the TV to see what was going on."

The mistake was supposedly made during a shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency when someone "doing a routine test hit the live alert button," The Associated Press reported.

The error triggered panic.

"Then the alarms went off on the base 15 minutes after we got the alarm on our phones," Barnes said. "Then police cars were going everywhere, firetrucks. There were cars getting in accidents. We saw a Jeep get t-boned because she's a [military] wife's husband, he was deployed, and she's new and she didn't know anything about what to do and literally got t-boned because she was running from something we couldn't run from."

Barnes said she knows the preparation is to have food and water for 14 days and to hide in a concrete structure.

They initially thought they would get in the car and go somewhere, she said, but they just stood there.

"They've been drilling us now for about three to four months. But this was the same tone and this says 'not a drill.' They were very loud about it not being a drill, and we live in the middle of the base so we heard everything," Barnes said. "The gates went on lockdown really fast, and then all of a sudden it just got quiet. You heard nothing but the birds. You didn't hear the highway, the cars.

"We just stood outside, and I was like, OK. When is this magical firework going to come down?" she said. "I just kept my cool. It didn't hit me until last night."

It wouldn't have mattered if they had raced somewhere in their car, she said, because some stores, like the Target across the island and a nearby gym and a Walmart, kicked customers out but let employees hide in the back.

She said people are more prepared now. Costco was packed the rest of the weekend with people buying and making emergency kits. But that's only a small silver lining.

"Hawaii people are very upset," she said. "It's just a lot to take in because somebody's little mistake, what they're calling it, literally made everyone's anxiety go up."

Editor's note: Valerie Barnes is the daughter is Karen Cave, an advertising sales representative for The Sumter Item.