Hundreds of thousands of people were scared out of their wits when a ballistic missile alert was issued by the Hawaiian government on an otherwise tranquil and beautiful Saturday morning. While the alert turned out to be false, it took officials nearly 40 minutes to rescind the warning and issue an all-clear. This created pandemonium across the state as people came face to face with the prospect of an imminent nuclear attack.
Life in Hawaii went from being normal to devolving into utter chaos within seconds of the alert being issued. Beachgoers scrambled to find shelter. Motorists broke all kinds of traffic laws as they raced for tunnels. People outside raced to buildings with basements, some crouched along concrete walls, and there is even a video floating around that shows a parent putting their small children down a manhole. Others were simply too-shocked to do anything other than stare at their phones.
One thing that quickly-became apparent is that the majority of people had no time to gather belongings and prepare in advance. They also didn’t have a lot of time to think about where to seek shelter, and many of them made some poor choices as a result. Another thing that added to the confusion was that warning sirens didn’t go off, so not everyone knew what was happening. Finally, officials didn’t even realize what had happened for some time, which made putting the genie back in the bottle even more-difficult.
Even after the all-clear was issued, it took some time for people to catch their breath and compose themselves. Imagine what kind of emotional roller coaster they must have had to endure as they moved from sheer terror to relief to anger and frustration, all within the span of less than an hour.
Breach of Confidence
There’s something particularly-horrifying about a nuclear alert compared to other public warnings. This is why officials have gone to great lengths to establish elaborate systems of checks and balances to prevent the issuance of false alarms. While false alarms do occur, they are usually caught long before warnings are issued to the public. What happened in Hawaii was unprecedented, and that’s saying a lot considering that we’ve been living in the nuclear age for over 70 years now.
One of the unfortunate consequences of this false alarm is that fewer people will take a real alert seriously when it’s issued. Not only that, but people may also become desensitized to the threat of a missile attack as well. All of this will make it harder for officials to convince people to seek shelter in the event that a real attack is underway.
Lessons to Learn
All of us can learn from what happened in Hawaii. The threat of a nuclear attack is just as, if not more likely now than it was during the Cold War. When an alert goes off, we won’t have time to do much more than to seek shelter. Consequently, it’s essential to be prepared beforehand. It’s also important to keep in mind that the next time alerts go out, it will probably not be due to “operator error” as agencies are reviewing procedures in the wake of this mishap. This means the next time sirens go off or alerts are beamed to phones and televisions, they will most-likely signify that a real attack is underway.