Hawaii’s False Alert & The Elephant In The Room

“Seek shelter immediately. This is not a drill.”

Early on Saturday, January 13, Hawaiians were upended with the island-wide alert across their TVs and phones. It warned unsuspecting residents that a ballistic missile was inbound.

Islanders scurried to find shelter and, in what they feared might be their last minutes on Earth, sent frantic messages to their loved ones. Looped images of a child being lowered into a manhole were broadcast all over the world.

The only good thing, if you want to call it that, was that the alert was a false alarm. It was retracted 38 minutes later.

The Hawaii false alarm incident was not the first of its kind. For more than 60 years, human and computer error, close-call incidents have startled governments into high alert action causing horrific excitement. 

Some folks old enough to remember pre-millennial times may recall the 1979 incident when National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski was awakened in the wee hours of the morning with news that Russia had launched 250 nuclear missiles at the United States. Every possible war function was put on alert, only to discover later that a NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) employee inadvertently tricked the system into thinking a missile strike was imminent by loading a training simulation scenario into an operational computer.

In the aftermath of what has been described as human error, Hawaii’s governor, David Ige, has assigned National Guard Brigadier General Kenneth Hara to conduct a “thorough review” of the alert that was mistakenly sent by an employee of the Emergency Management Agency.

Ige assured residents that, “Children going down manholes, stores closing their doors to those seeking shelter, and cars driving at high speeds cannot happen again. We will do a better job of educating the public. Let me be clear: False notifications and waiting for what felt like an eternity will not happen again,” said the governor. “You have my promise on this.”

Predictably, President Trump dismissed the incident, calling it a “state thing,” adding “Well, we hope it won’t happen again. But part of it is that people are on edge, but maybe, eventually, we’ll solve the problem so they won’t have to be so on edge.”

Perhaps that was meant as a “no problemo” smokescreen to diffuse the elephant in the room: since Trump has taken office, he’s done nothing to assuage tensions with North Korea and its unstable dictator, Kim Jong-un, but has chosen instead to poke a stick at the sleeping North Korea dragon that may or may not have a nuclear arsenal big enough to start World War III and possible annihilate the Earth. Why not stop the infantile swordplay and name-calling and take this deadly issue seriously?

Past presidents and world leaders, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Winston Churchill among them, have led their countries through “wars to end all wars.” Their citizens looked up to them and turned to them in times of deadly crisis for reassurance, for leadership, and for direction. It remains to be seen whether history will have the same to report of the reality TV personality in the White House, but the chances are slim that he will join the ranks of esteemed world leaders. We can only hope the planet will survive so we can write those history books.