Preview: Recalling the Hawaiian missile alert

Sony Open in Hawaii
There are few places on the PGA Tour schedule that caddies would rather be than in Hawaii for the Sony Open… unless there’s the imminent threat of a ballistic missile and you think, “I’m going to die today.” That’s what happened in 2018 and caddies had plenty of time to ponder, “is this it?” before the alert was deemed a false alarm. Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

On January 13, 2018, anyone who had a smartphone in Honolulu received a horrifying text alert that read: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

It just so happened that the PGA Tour was in town that week for the Sony Open.

The Caddie Network will publish a story on January 7, 2019 — the start of Sony Open week — with several caddies offering up their firsthand accounts of what the moments were like from the time they received the alert to a short time later — which had to feel like an eternity — when it was announced the alert was a false alarm.

Here is a sampling from that piece…

From Scott Sajtinac, caddie and President of the APTC (Association of Professional Tour Caddies):

Initially, the weirdest thing about the alert was I was sitting in a busy coffee shop off the main drag of Waikiki with Brian Reed (Kyle Stanley), Matthew Tritton (Luke List) and player, Michael Thompson. The coffee spot was super busy, given the time of morning and all at once, in unison, everybody’s phone buzzed or beeped the familiar iPhone text sound. I remember thinking, “how strange.”

We had an outside table, so not only could I see all the coffee shop patrons checking their phones at the same time, but also the busy foot traffic walking by.

My phone was face down on the table and I never bothered to pick it up, even though mine buzzed, too. Brian checked his phone and read the message out loud to us all and I distinctly remember calling “bullsh**.”

He read it again and that’s when I picked up my phone to read the same alert.  

Looking around, I could see some worried faces.

After a few minutes, staff from the coffee shop told us all to leave — go find someplace safe for shelter. I turned to the guys and said, “where the f*** would that be?”

My experience with ballistic missiles is limited, but I’m pretty sure there’s no safe place for shelter at a vacation spot like Waikiki.

We began walking back towards the hotel and panic began to rise on the street. People started walking briskly, some even running. One particular lady came up to me, an Australian lady on vacation, and asked, “what’s all the commotion about?”

She had an Australian phone and never received the alert. I told her what had happened, and she flipped out and ran off.

I then called fellow caddie Damian Lopez. I knew he was on the mainland at the time and asked if he’d heard anything on the mainstream news on his end. He said he hadn’t, so we made our way back to the hotel.

Right outside the lobby of our hotel we passed another caddie and his wife. His wife was hysterical, so I told her about a New York Times article I had recently read a month or so prior. The state of Hawaii had just spent tens of millions of dollars on a state-of-the-art alarm system that would sound off in the streets if such a thing would happen. That was my saving grace as far as keeping myself calm.

I thought, if this alert was real then surely the street alarm system would be in full-blown action by now. I also noticed that there was zero police presence. Not one patrol car, not one law enforcement officer giving guidance or direction — and we were already, by now, 15 minutes into the ordeal. Surely there would have been police everywhere giving instructions. There was not one officer in site.

 My gut instinct was it was a false alarm, but just in case it wasn’t, I suggested to the guys, “We have two options if this is real. We go to the beach for a swim or straight to the bar and drink tequila.”

Approximately 15 minutes later, we were informed by the hotel staff it was a false alarm.

No need for the tequila.

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