Many of you probably know about this already, but Hawaiian residents had a scary morning last Saturday. My husband and I live in Hawaii. Saturday morning, when I was about to leave the apartment to go to a training session in downtown Honolulu, my husband’s and my iPhones started beeping. We sometimes get alerts about flash flooding on our phones. I thought at first “It is not raining now. Why am I getting flash flood warning?” Then we both looked at our phones. It was a scary moment. The warning was not about flash flooding. It was saying,


When I saw the sentence “This is NOT a drill,” I got chicken skin (meaning scared in Hawaiian English).

Some neighbors were yelling outside asking their family members to go inside their house. My husband went to check with our neighbors. We did not know what to do in this emergency moment. My husband and I sealed the house and went to the bathroom which seemed to be the safest place in our apartment. I posted on Facebook, and some of my friends in Hawaii responded. They also didn’t know what to do. I checked Twitter and breaking news online, but no information. But luckily, my husband was calm and he told me later I was calm, too.

But I still think even 5 days after this false alert. What if I were driving on the freeway at the time the alert had gone off. What if I was in a store or somewhere. Some people abandoned their cars on the freeway and started running to look for a shelter. Some businesses kicked customers out and turned down people who wanted to get inside. In cases of emergency, we sometimes can’t think clearly or do not know exactly what to do. This is a problem, especially for foreigners.


If you are in the US or an English speaking country and you speak English as a second language, an event like this may freak you out even more than other people because of the language barrier. When 9/11 happened in 2001, I did not speak English well. That time I just came from Japan and started going to a community college in California (Hey, I was admitted because I passed TOEFL test). I did not know why Americans were panicking because I did not understand what they were saying. That time, there were no smartphones. I had very limited access to the internet, and had no TV. I finally found out about 9/11 a couple of days later when a Japanese friend told me what happened in Japanese. I got scared because I had no idea what was going on. I noticed that not being able to communicate in English can be hazardous in the United States. Nowadays, you can get information on smartphones and online, but still if you need to evacuate or ask for help, you need to understand what other people say and need to say what you want to say very clearly and quickly. Practice some situational conversations at home by yourself so that you will be able to communicate quickly in an emergency event. This is my advice for English learners in an English speaking country.

I would also add…

  • Keep your passport and green card in a safe but accessible place.
  • Know how to contact your local embassy.

The NSC’s site shows a list of things you can do to be further prepared for an emergency.

Here is an interesting article on about how Japanese and Hawaiian react differently towards the inbounding missile.


Have you been affected by any emergency situation while being aboard? How did you respond? Share your experience in the comments.

American English pronunciation coach. Studied linguistics at UCLA. Specializing in phonetics, phonology, intonation, and second language acquisition.

She likes music and Toastmasters. Recently she enjoys playing ukulele and hand bells.