I received the Hawaii missile alert: Here's what I told my kids when I thought I had minutes to live

What started out as any usual Saturday morning in Hawaii this past weekend turned into a nightmare with the sound of an alert blaring from my phone at 8:05 am.

Living in paradise for the past 17 years, my kids and I became accustomed to packing the car with a 2-hour warning of potential tsunamis after major earthquakes off the coasts of Japan, Fiji, South America, Alaska and the west coast of the United States.

We have become near experts at tracking storms and potential hurricanes, as well as creating evacuation plans in case of a tsunami. Extra water, food that could last 14 days, filling the car with gas, keeping the dog’s leash and crate near the back door, remembering to charge our electronics at the beginning of a hurricane watch seemed routine for the three of us.

Other than repeating “run toward the hills” over and over in my mind I have always been fairly confident that we would be OK during a natural disaster.  Living near the beach in a tsunami zone is a risk but with proper planning we have learned how to mitigate the stress when we hear a warning siren.

I started creating a roadmap of what I wanted them to accomplish and how I wanted them to move forward no matter what happened to me. I sent texts to them both so that if the missile hit sooner at least they would have something to read, to remember.

Years ago while living in Lanikai, Hawaii, on Thanksgiving Day, my daughters and I were greeted with a large earthquake just off the coast of Hawaii that rocked the ground steadily and felt like being on a large ship with rolling swells rocking us back and forth. That was my first encounter with an earthquake living in Hawaii and what followed were moments of sheer panic as we were told to evacuate the tiny area that was feet within the shore.

My daughters were very young at the time but they dutifully helped throw suitcases full of clothes, computers, and phones, loaded the dogs, food, water and we buckled up. Once ready to trek up to higher ground, we started the car, and as I pressed the button to open the electronic gate, I realized the electricity on the island was out. We were stuck.

I panicked.

The electricity stayed off for what seemed like days and we quickly learned that life on an island isn’t always paradise.  That was the beginning of a solid education about life on an island and how what “survival” really means.

When I heard the alarm blaring this time and looked at my phone, shock set in for a few seconds -- as I put my reading glasses on to verify that I was really reading the message that sent terror across the island chain and fear into loved ones around the world.

It wasn’t a natural disaster but a man-made disaster and the result of international frustration and political tension. Our lives were in danger and it was the press of a button that could end it all.

I stood in my bedroom for what seemed like too long, then walked into the living room -- staring at my windows -- wondering how long we all had, where to go, what to do.

Although I had attended workshops and read pamphlets on what to do in a nuclear attack, so many things rushed through my head.

Once I realized that it would be nearly impossible to prepare in the short amount of time (anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes) I decided the best thing to do would be to send messages to my daughters.

I especially wanted to send a message to Alyssa, who just started college at the University of Southern California. As a freshman, I didn’t want her life to stop if something happened to me.

The similarity to my childhood was uncanny. I had lost my mom in a tragic death when I was a teenager. If she had left me words of encouragement and a “roadmap” I would have followed it.

So that is what I wanted for my kids. I started creating a roadmap of what I wanted them to accomplish and to describe how I wanted them to move forward no matter what happened to me.

I sent texts to both of them so that if the missile hit quickly at least they would have something to read, to remember.

I wrote to my oldest daughter Alanna, who is a student at Seattle University, “If this is the end, stay strong and no matter what happens take care of you and sis. Find a way to get to California and be together soon and be a family. I love you so much.”

To my youngest daughter at college in California I messaged her, “No matter what happens get your degree! Have a good life and be successful! And take care of your sister.”

After messaging my kids and trying to get in touch via phone, I realized that everyone was calling out and the cell lines were jammed.

I started on a plan via a shared Google doc so that at least my kids would have a chance to read it in case all our belongings were obliterated in the attack.

My roadmap included much of what a will would include, but mine dug a little deeper. It went on to share details of what to expect in life, how to manage financial concerns, marriage, divorce, priorities, and most of all, how to move forward no matter what happened to me in Hawaii.

Thank God I didn’t have to share that roadmap with them within the terrifying 15-30 minutes that we thought we had left.

Thirty-eight minutes after the first alert Hawaii received another text alert that the message was a false alarm.

Neighbors and friends were crying at the relief that it was not the end.  Many of us already knew it was a false alarm -- we had contacted people we knew in law enforcement or the government who had confirmed it was a false alarm.

But the possibility still lingers in everyone’s minds, especially those of us here in Hawaii.

Living with the idea that, “it could happen” creates additional stress in a place where we should all be focused on aloha and not seeking shelter from a nuclear attack.

What happened in Hawaii gives us all reason to reflect on what is really important in life, and how we can continue to strengthen our relationships with family and friends.  And, instead of waiting until there is a natural disaster or nuclear threat to give my kids a roadmap of life, I’m giving them this gift now so they can prepare for their futures.  They may not follow it, but at least they will know mom loved them enough to help them have a better life.

Cynthia L. Manley is a public speaker and mom living in Hawaii.

Cynthia Manley is the mother of two daughters and president of the Civilian Military Council for Marine Corps Base Hawaii.