Video produced by Julie Zink
Third year UVa student Emily Head, who was vacationing in Hawaii during the false missile warning in early January, spent twenty minutes believing she was facing imminent death. She recalls how an official state emergency text popped up on her screen and terror ensued.
“I was reading the first two lines which were pretty alarming themselves: ‘Incoming Ballistic Missile – Seek Shelter Immediately,’ but as soon as I saw ‘This is not a drill,’ I freaked out.”
This was not Head’s first brush with death.
“I’ve had a few different scares in my life. I was in an emergency plane landing, I was present for the Boston Bombings, so I did have a moment being like: Is there something wrong with me? Am I cursed in some way?” she said.
Over winter break, Head’s family traveled to Maui to visit her older sister. On the morning of January 13, they were on the neighboring island of Kauai, enjoying a quiet Saturday morning. Around 8 a.m., the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency sent a startling text warning to the entire state.
Head hurried to wake up her family. Her mother, brothers, and sister ran to their hotel lobby and joined a group of panicked vacationers. She called her dad, who was an hour into his run on the beach and had neglected to read the last line of the text.
For less than a half an hour, Head thought it was the end.
“A lot of people were like ‘Maybe it’s a joke!’ or ‘Maybe it was a mistake!’ and I just remember reading ‘This is not a drill,’ and I was looking around at everyone and thinking everyone is in total denial that we are all just going to die right now.”
Eventually, Head’s friends back in the United States messaged her the news that the warning was just a fluke.
Head is not a stranger to close encounters with death, but she says they never get easier.
“I don’t think you can be prepared emotionally for a scare like that. I have the feeling that it’s one of the sensations that you never get numb to: fearing for your life.”