Students share experiences from Hawaii missile alert

Evan Mattingly, a WKU photojournalism student, was in Hawaii when he received a notification signaling a missile threat for the island. Mattingly said one of the first things that went through his mind was “I really hope this isn’t happening.”

The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency sent out a mobile alert Jan. 13 advising individuals to seek shelter from a ballistic missile threat. Thirty-eight minutes later a second message described the initial alert as a false alarm attributed to human error.

Two WKU seniors, Taryn Mitchell and Evan Mattingly, experienced the incident firsthand.

Mitchell traveled home to the island of Oahu to visit her parents, while Mattingly flew into Kauai for a family vacation.

The alert, which occured around 7 a.m., woke Mitchell. She sought shelter with her family in their home’s basement. She said the lack of sirens and television news coverage assured her that the alert was false.

“When we watched the news, there was absolutely nothing about a missile coming,” Mitchell said.

Mattingly was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic when his mother received the message.

“My initial reaction was that it wasn’t real,” Mattingly said. “After about 20 minutes, it started to sink in that it might actually happen. I started calling my closest friends and family members with what I believed to be my final words.”

The second alert confirmed the safety of both students but left them feeling relieved.

“Being a journalist myself, I was very disappointed in the way the media covered the false alert here in Hawaii,” Mitchell, a broadcast news major, said. 

She believed the local media should have followed the event with live coverage.

“Even if the news did not know what was going on, they still should have been broadcasting live to keep giving people updates,” Mitchell said. “It goes to show that we are not prepared if something like this were to actually happen.”

Although Mattingly believes individuals should be held accountable for sending the false alert, he has not lost confidence in the government as a whole.

“I still trust the government for the future to make a more sound system so that this doesn’t happen again,” Mattingly said.

Both Mitchell and Mattingly said their experience with the false alarm will have no impact on their future safety. Both said they would take any future alerts as seriously as the first.

“I feel like now, I would be a little more prepared,” Mitchell said. “But is anyone really prepared if something like this were to actually happen?”

News reporter Olivia Eiler can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected] Follow Olivia on Twitter at @oliviaeiler16.