Revisiting the false missile alert in Hawaii

Megan Behnke, Staff Writer

On Jan. 13, Hawaii residents woke up to a ballistic missile alert issued via the Emergency Alert System and Commercial Mobile Alert System over televisions, radios, and cellphones. The alarm advised residents to seek shelter immediately, repeating “this is not a drill.” 38 minutes later, a second message was sent, stating that the first alert was a “false alarm.” State officials blamed confusion during an employee shift change at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency. Yet in light of ongoing missile-related tensions between North Korea and the U.S., dismissing this incident as a “false alarm” seems woefully inadequate.

Before the attack on Pearl Harbor in the 1940s, there was no warning. All people saw were planes with the Japanese symbol on it. The regional trauma from this assault still lingers, as does the horror from memories of other terror attacks that have occurred across the nation. In modern times of increasing tension and hostility, a “false alarm” is nothing to sweep under the rug. The government needs to work harder to ensure that this country is safe, not only from threats abroad, but also the slippery slope of domestic panic and uncertainty. In a system where citizens depend on the government for news of impending danger and attacks, a false alarm can cause long term damage to the credibility of those in charge even if no actual attack occurs.

According to CNN, the employee responsible for the error was fired. Other employees claim that he mistook a routine drill for the real situation, despite the fact that the five other workers in the room heard “exercise” repeating over the intercom. If you work for the government, especially in roles involving emergency management, you must be able to balance preparedness with awareness, and a constant cognizance of the impact your actions have on everyone around you. In this situation, a split-second mistake plunged the entire state of Hawaii into panic for over half an hour. 38 minutes on high alert, thinking a missile is heading your way when it really isn’t, is an ordeal no person should have to undergo.