The mother and daughter were standing in line at a Kauai, Hawaii breakfast joint when their phones lit up with an ominous message.
"BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII," it said. "SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL."
Someone at the front of the line showed the message to the man behind the counter and asked if it was normal.
"No," the worker said. "I have never seen that before."
"So everyone just took off," said Sue Carson, a Tarpon Springs resident who was vacationing at the time with her husband, daughter and son-in-law.
A long way from Florida, Carson and her daughter, Katie Bernhardt, dashed back to their hotel to join their husbands. Carson flipped on the TV, desperate for information. All she could find was a small banner underneath footage of a basketball game.
They would soon learn it was a mistake, a remarkable and catastrophic human error that shook a state already wary of escalating nuclear threats lobbed between the United States and North Korea. But the Jan. 13 alarm prompted residents and tourists to clamor for shelter and call their family members for what they thought was the last time.
For Carson and her husband, Dr. Thomas Carson, who own Carson Family Care Center & Medi-Spa in Tarpon Springs, the alert sparked more calm confusion than fear.
"I’m 65, so I’m kind of like, ‘If it’s my time, it’s my time,’" Sue Carson said. "We were more focused on getting information."
At the hotel, the family moved away from the windows, as much protection as they could muster for a threat they had no idea how to protect themselves from. Bernhardt’s husband, Jon, called the front desk to see if the hotel had a plan in place. He got a busy signal every time.
Still, the family wasn’t panicking.
"We were more in disbelief," said Bernhardt, who lives in Jacksonville. "We were (worrying), but not to the point that we started huddling in the bathroom."
As her parents fixed their eyes on TV news, she turned to her phone. It reminded her of Hurricane Irma just a few months before. On her way out of town for a bachelorette party, she checked her phone constantly for weather updates.
About 20 minutes after the alert went out, Bernhardt and her husband started seeing posts on Twitter that it wasn’t real. Her suspicions were confirmed when a notification went out about 8:45 a.m. — 38 minutes after the alert lit up their phones — correcting the record.
That led to even more confusion. How could this have happened?
Hawaii Emergency Management Agency officials said a worker was supposed to send out an internal test but erroneously picked the option that sent it to the public.
"I feel like maybe it should be a more hidden button if it happens that easy," Bernhardt, 30, said.
News of the false alarm also brought relief. It was their last day of vacation celebrating Bernhardt’s completion of physician’s assistant school.
They never did get their breakfast, Bernhardt said. And the food looked really good at the spot they had visited that morning.
"So we went back," she said, "and went on with our day."
Information from The Washington Post was used in this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at [email protected] or (727) 893-8913. Follow @kathrynvarn.