2018-01-17 / Front Page

Rineharts caught in Hawaii scare

Susan Scholl

Jeanette and Martin Rinehart Jeanette and Martin Rinehart A local couple, who spend their winters in Honolulu, were caught up in the nuclear attack false alarm that occurred Saturday morning in Hawaii.

It was a relatively typical morning for Martin and Jeanette Rinehart. They reside on the 20th floor of an apartment building at one end of Waikiki Beach. Martin was with friends having coffee at McDonald’s, located street level in their building, while Jeanette was upstairs in their apartment.

According to Martin, there were probably 40 to 50 people either ordering or sitting down in the Mc- Donald’s when the alarm went off on his cell phone shortly after 8 a.m. A message came up: “Ballistic missile threat inbound alert to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

Not everyone’s cell phone alarm went off at the same time, Martin said. He shared the message with his coffee buddies. “After that we didn’t talk much,” he said.

“What struck me,” said Martin, “was how serious and calm people were. There’s people from all over the world in Hawaii, all nationalities. They just talked calmly to one another. We looked out the window and could see people looking at their phones, wondering what to do. But they just kept going about their daily lives.”

“Realistically,” Martin said, “what are you going to do in 20 minutes? This is one of the busiest parts of the island. A person is not going to get far in that amount of time.”

While all of this was going on, Martin called his son, Bret, back in Indiana.

“I picked up the phone and Dad said he called me to tell me goodbye. Said he got a text message that a missile had been launched and it was headed toward Hawaii. ‘To me and the gang, it looks pretty normal around here,’ Martin told his son.”

Meanwhile Jeanette was trying to get on every TV channel, like at home when there is severe or threatening weather, and learn more. She could not find anything, no crawlers, no news break-ins, nothing.

She looked out her 20th floor windows and could see the tourist area below.

“People there appeared to be shook up,” she said.

The one thing that did not occur when the alarm went out Saturday was there were no sirens, said Jeanette. Hawaii has a monthly weather siren test but in December started testing a shrill sounding air siren which hasn’t been used since the end of the Cold War.

It took 38 minutes before the message went out that the original message had been a false alarm, much too long for confused and frightened residents and tourists.

Jeanette knew she could not go anywhere so she had been contemplating getting into the bathtub. She learned later she should have been filling her bathtub with water in the event their water supply and/or electricity was shut off.

Martin doesn’t want to forget those 38 minutes of uncertainty. “I don’t want to forget the moment, it was very real,” he said.

He called Bret back to tell him it had been a false alarm.

“We’ve had some laughs over it,” Bret added.

The Federal Communications Commission is launching a full-scale investigation into what went wrong. The panic for a million residents and tourists was set in motion by an Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee who reportedly “pushed the wrong button.” That employee has been temporarily reassigned.

Since wintering in Hawaii the Rineharts have had an education on threats not found at home in Indiana. They have been through a tsunami and now a false missile scare.

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