Handling Emergency Traffic during Hawaii’s False Alarm
by John Keating AI6LY
During the morning of January 13, I was on the Ohana Net 14.268. There were several stations participating from the Hawaiian Islands, one from New Zealand, and over a dozen stations from the mainland. The net control operator in Hawaii was transmitting when suddenly his microphone picked up a very loud alarm from nearby. He stopped for a moment then returned to the air with a shaky voice saying that he had received a text alert about an inbound missile and it was not a drill. Very quickly, he interrupted the net and asked if anyone had other information on the apparent crisis before he goes QRT to take shelter. Both N6QS in Southern California and I in Northern California did quick google searches which turned up nothing. We relayed the info back to Hawaiian net control. Moments later we heard “break break” from another Hawaiian op whose QTH was too close to hear net control. The anxiety in his voice was readily apparent as he asked if anyone knew what was going on. I responded to his break by clearing the frequency again and delivering the message that our continued news and web searches were turning up no indication of threat. In fact, for what seemed like an interminable period, we did not even see any mention of the HEMA alert.
I’m happy to say that even in this case of false alarm, the amateur radio community did what it is supposed to do: pass emergency traffic in an efficient, professional manner. Given that the alarm sound was carried in real time over an HF QSO, those of us on the net may have been the first on the mainland to know about the alert. (I think we were way ahead of Twitter!) Several of the net members scrambled to research the situation, and N6QS and I handled traffic with the Hawaiian stations until the false alarm was confirmed. Our efforts helped to calm the nerves of the ops in the Islands and provided a quick test of skills that, hopefully, we will never need for real.