Basketball, False Alarms, and Nuclear Warheads

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Image courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory

Melissa Magana

When the state of Hawaii went through its infamous false missile alert on Jan. 13, the University of California, Santa Barbara’s very own basketball team was present for the mayhem. On the morning of their game versus Hawaii, some teammates were woken at around 8:10 a.m. when the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency (EMA) sent to the public a text message alert that said, “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Hawaii EMA took 38 minutes to notify those with cellular devices that the alert was a mistake. Hawaii officials clarified that there was never any indication of a nuclear attack and have since repeatedly apologized for the false alarm that sent the islands into a panic.

Coverage of the incident has focused on both the technicalities of just how exactly this human error occurred and what if felt like to receive the warning. When asked about their experience in Hawaii, three of UCSB’s very own basketball team detailed the shock of that morning.

Gabriel Vincent woke up to his phone buzzing. “My multiple team group chats were full of messages saying we needed to meet in the lobby immediately.” After seeing the messages and then noticing the alert, he says, “I was in shock; it all seemed a bit surreal like something out of a movie.”

His teammate Jalen Canty says he was awake when he received the alert. After texting his team to ask if they received the alert, he said, “I started to look outside and thought about if they were really coming … thirty seconds later I hear a siren, like from a police car. At that moment I believed it was not a drill.”

Fellow teammate Leland King II said, “I didn’t see much outside but some of my teammates said they heard sirens and that really scared some people.”

“The locals and people around me seemed very concerned and worried. Some were sad, some confused, and others were just on the move,” said Vincent.

An official with Honolulu Emergency Services (EMS) told The Huffington Post that 911 medical calls spiked briefly after the alert. The calls included a 37-year-old female who was in a motor vehicle collision, a 38-year-old female who was transported to the hospital with anxiety, and James Sean Field, a 51-year-old male who suffered and survived a heart attack. 

“Our coach texted us telling us to go downstairs,” Canty said. “As I came out of the elevator, everyone in the hotel was freaking out but, awkwardly, everyone outside was going on with their day.”

King recalled the moment vividly. “I was just trying to keep everyone around me calm, but when we all got together we stayed pretty calm.”

The team found out the alert was false after their coach informed them that he talked to a Commander from the Hawaii Military Base, who confirmed it was a false alarm.

“We were all just happy to find out it was all fake and we could continue on,” King said.

Vincent believes that the fact that there was no plan set in place for such a situation is very concerning. “With tensions across the world so high it made me not want to return to Hawaii for some time, as they just did not seem prepared for such situations,” he said.

Though it was a false alarm, he says that those 38 minutes felt very real. “It was a crazy and an eye-opening experience,” Vincent said. “Hopefully through this traumatic event our team can grow closer than ever and overcome whatever obstacle we face next.”

“After he told us, I went outside to the balcony with my teammates,” Canty recalls. “We were all scared but after finding out it was a false alarm we laughed it off. [I] thought it was pretty funny how someone accidentally sends out an alert like that. To this day we make jokes about it, but at the same time we think ‘what if it wasn’t a false alarm? Where would we be?’”