Expecting a text from a friend, you pick up your phone. An emergency alert message flickers on your screen, commanding you to seek immediate shelter from a ballistic missile inbound to your state.
What do you do? Scream? Faint? Get underground? Try to book a seat on a plane leaving the country?
On Saturday, January 13th, the terrifying text message in the photo above was sent to cell phones all over Hawaii.
The New York Times says Hawaii “began staging monthly air-raid drills, complete with sirens in December, since President Trump and Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, began exchanging nuclear threats.” As a prime candidate for a potential attack, Hawaii “has been on high emotional alert.”
When the text came through, panic blossomed immediately. “The error sparked a doomsday panic across the islands known as a laid-back paradise. Parents clutched their children, huddled in bathtubs and said prayers. Students bolted across the University of Hawaii campus to take cover in buildings. Drivers abandoned cars on a highway and took shelter in a tunnel. Others resigned themselves to a fate they could not control and simply waited for the attack,” says PBS News.
The response wasn’t entirely driven by mindless panic, either. Mike Staskow, a retired military captain, said he was “running through all the scenarios in my head, but there was nowhere to go, nowhere to pull over to.” There’s very little one can do in such an emergency.
Then the news broke.
Thirty-eight minutes after the alert, officials notified the public that the warning had been sent in error.
When the shock wore off, frustration set in.
David Ige, governor of Hawaii, said simply, “It was a mistake made during a standard procedure at the change over of a shift, and an employee pushed the wrong button.” Put even more literally, “Someone clicked the wrong thing on the computer,” as spokesman Richard Rapoza said. Despite demands for details, the employee’s name has not been disclosed.
Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, called the mistake “absolutely unacceptable,” saying “false alerts undermine public confidence in the alerting system and thus reduce their effectiveness during real emergencies.”
Incidents like the mistaken Hawaii missile alert raise doubts — can we trust the government? How should we react to warnings if there’s a chance they’re inaccurate?
First of all, the leaders of our government have been carefully chosen — “by the people,” in fact. That doesn’t mean they’re infallible, nor that everyone’s pleased with them — but it does mean that they have the authority granted by us. We’ve already chosen to follow the leaders we’ve set in place, and that means trusting them to make wise decisions.
However, we know our government isn’t going to make the perfect choices, all the time. “To err is human,” writes Alexander Pope. It’s only natural for people to become uneasy when presented with the results of a scare like the Hawaii missile alert incident, but we have to understand the situation. “To err is human,” as Pope wrote, and continued, “to forgive, divine.”
Ultimately, safety that transcends human security is only found with God. In such a situation as took place in Hawaii, there seems no way out. And when the time comes for such terrifying situations, one’s faith must already be strong enough to stand.
Trust must be in place at all times. Yesterday. Tomorrow. Today.
This is not a drill.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. -Psalm 118:9.
From paradise to panic: Hawaii residents and vacationers run for cover, fearing missile attack. http://www.cnn.com/2018/01/13/us/hawaii-false-alarm-react/index.html
Let’s not do that again: FCC to look into Hawaii’s mistaken missile alert. http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/hawaii-false-missile-alert-mistake-1.4487026
Missile-alert mistake in Hawaii feeds doubts about a real emergency. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/missile-alert-mistake-in-hawaii-feeds-doubts-about-a-real-emergency
Hawaii panics after alert about incoming missile is sent in error. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/13/us/hawaii-missile.html
An Essay on Criticism, Pt. 2, by Alexander Pope. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44897/an-essay-on-criticism-part-2