“BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” -Hawaiian Public Safety Alert Broadcast
At some point in every person’s life they will ponder their mortality. Few will have to face that question with the belief that we are in imminent peril.
On Jan. 13, residents of Hawaii spent almost 40 minutes in sheer terror believing a ballistic nuclear missile was rocketing toward them. These 40 minutes were not reserved solely for a chain of islands and atolls in the middle of the Pacific as in those moments the world had to contemplate the unthinkable. On that day, we were all Hawaiians. Faced with the question: “What would you do if you were told you only had a few minutes to live?”
Some would say we cannot live in a world where we wake up every morning with the threat that this will be our last day on Earth, but that is exactly the world we live in, and have for a very long time. Since the dawn of human existence, mankind seems to have be living on borrowed time. This is not an article of “doom and gloom,” but more a proclamation of our resiliency.
The Hawaiian instance is another string of “close calls” and although it was a false alarm for a moment it was real. The collective “gasp” of fright and confusion reverberated throughout the world. Even some of you reading these words today thought for a moment, “is this real,” had we finally reached our Charlton Heston “Planet of the Apes” ending, on our knees, screaming ”…you finally really did it…damn you, damn you all to hell?” Thankfully, mankind was granted a reprieve, again. However, in those moments what did we learn?
The first thing we learned is that most people are woefully unprepared, not just for a ballistic missile, but with crisis planning in general. Not that there were many options for the citizens of Hawaii. “Duck and cover” under a palm tree would have only provided an awesome tropical view, nothing more. But you have to admit, if your time was up, there are far worse places than a beach in Hawaii.
Uncomfortable humor aside, do you have an emergency plan? What would you do if the event happens while your family was scattered? What if it happens while you are at work or at home? Do you have emergency supplies in your car, your kid’s car or at work? Where would you all meet, remembering the crisis may block some routes. Do yourself a favor, and make a plan. Maybe you won’t survive a catastrophic event, but you owe it to yourself and your family to try. To find out how to start a plan, go to Make a Plan at www.ready.gov/make-a-plan.
The next thing I learned is that we are not a very forgiving society. The unfortunate Hawaiian Public Safety employee who sent the text made a mistake, one that was not entirely his fault, and was compounded by the response from the leadership of the Hawaiian government. Granted, proclaiming the end of the world is a doozy of a mistake, and it caused panic, but this is a learning opportunity. The person who sent the text taught us all a valuable lesson on many levels. We learned how individually unprepared we were to manage a crisis. The Hawaiian government learned how inadequate its processes and procedures were.
The employee who made the mistake is probably one of the most important state employees still on the job after this crisis. Do you know how much money the Hawaiian government would have to pay to acquire what it hopefully learned from this mistake? Unless someone tells me otherwise, this employee will never make a mistake like this again, and will most likely make sure others don’t either. You can’t buy this type of experience, nor should you let it walk out the door. I am not saying this employee shouldn’t be sanctioned in some way, but at the very least keep him around so he can explain to every new state employee exactly what went wrong and how not to repeat it.
The last lesson is what we learned about humanity. Faced with certain annihilation, many people did not think of themselves, their cars or bank accounts. Those who believed they were in harm’s way thought only of their loved ones. Reading the text messages families and friends sent to each other during those 40 minutes of uncertainty was eye opening. One would expect feelings of terror, fear and regret would overwhelm social media, but just the opposite was true for many. Love ones reached out to each other, voicing their love and hopes for the future of those they were leaving behind. Yes, there were messages of panic, and after it was revealed to be a false alarm, even more messages of anger. But for those who took what they thought were their last moments on Earth to express love, this was the most treasured lesson.
Hindsight is one of the greatest gifts we afford ourselves. It is easy to look back at this incident knowing what we know today. But life has a way of deciding your fate and you may never see your last moment coming. As you ponder our opening question “what would you do if you were told you only had a few minutes to live?” reach out to those you care about and let them know they are loved and appreciated, or as they would say in Hawaii – Aloha no au la ’oe (I truly love you).