Zoe Dym, ’16, learns that Cold War fallout shelter won’t protect from a missile threat at University of Hawaii

At 8:07 a.m. on Jan. 13, everyone in Hawaii woke up to a notification on their phones: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” One of these was Zoe Dym, ‘16, a sociology major at the University of Hawaii.


(Photo used by permission of Zoe Dym)
This emergency alert appeared on smartphones in Hawaii at 8:07 a.m. on Jan. 13.

Q: Where were you during the false missile alert?

A: I was actually dead asleep and didn’t notice that my alarm was going off.

But then I heard pounding on my dorm door. “Who is that?” I thought, (because) it (was) so early in the morning. As I was waking up, I checked my phone and (saw) my boyfriend was calling me. I picked up the phone, and the first thing he said is (to) stay low to the ground and find shelter. (My response was), “What are you talking about?”

I (opened) my door and the banging was my roommate’s boyfriend. He said there was a missile heading towards Hawaii and that we needed to go find shelter. I responded, “What the heck are you talking about?”

I checked my phone and finally saw the alarm. So I woke up my roommates. There is a bomb shelter on campus that was made in the Cold War. There’s a fallout sign there, (so) we all followed others toward the building.

Everyone in the residential hall was jogging (or) sprinting toward the main part of campus to get to the fallout shelter.

Once we got there, I was really nervous, but I was also kind of skeptical because everyone around didn’t seem to be freaking out that much, and none of the tsunami warnings or any other kind of alarm were going off.

So there was a huge crowd of students at the fallout shelter, and as it turns out, the door was locked, so we couldn’t even get inside.

We were all just standing there not knowing what to do.


Q: What were you thinking at that point?

A: I knew I wasn’t going to live long. (My reaction was) “Oh, I knew it. Of course this happens to me!” I was also really sad.

I’m a really nervous person in general, so I was freaking out while my roommates were half asleep and really skeptical about it, which was good because (they) kind of calmed me down. (I started to think) “Oh, maybe this isn’t a real alarm.” But mostly (I felt that) something was going to happen to me that was going to prevent me from living a long, fulfilling life.


Q: How did you learn it was a false alarm?

A: My roommate’s boyfriend, who woke me up, was checking his phone, going on Reddit and Twitter and other social media trying to find out more about it.

Then before we actually got the alarm on our phones saying it was a false alarm, we found out by checking our governor’s and senator’s Twitter (accounts).


Q: Have you noticed any effects on campus?

A: A little bit. I work at the radio station on campus, and, thankfully, my shift was not when this alarm came on, but some of our emergency code rules changed a little.

We also got an email from the dean and our senators (telling us to) not freak out and what to do if this actually happens.

Then they also told us that the fallout shelter all the students ran to doesn’t even work because it was made during the Cold War and hasn’t been used since.

Then they sent another email confirming that there are no useable fallout shelters on the island. That’s reassuring!


Q: What do you think of the experience now that it’s over?

A: It was easily one of the most terrifying moments of my life.

Thankfully, all the students were civil about it. But, for example, my boyfriend’s older brother works for a hotel, and all the tourists started looting the kitchens and pushing people out of the way to get to the basement. It was crazy.

A lot of students just accepted it and got drunk. I guess they didn’t want to die sober.

By Spencer Scott

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