By LEO HOHMANN
An emergency alert warning that a ballistic missile was inbound to the island of Hawaii Saturday was mistakenly sent to residents’ cellphones, setting off a chaotic scramble for cover.
Hawaiian citizens reported receiving an emergency alert on their phone that stated: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
The false alert remained publicly active for about 40 minutes and set off “widespread panic” across the state before authorities issued a new alert saying it was a mistake.
People flocked to shelters, crowding highways in scenes of terror and helplessness. “I was running through all the scenarios in my head, but there was nowhere to go, nowhere to pull over to,” Mike Staskow, a retired military captain, told the New York Times.
The state authorities say they have opened an investigation into how the mistaken alert got issued. Heads will probably roll. But maybe we should thank whoever was responsible for this mistake. It was very revealing.
Now we know what will happen if the U.S. should, God forbid, ever get into a nuclear war, or even a conventional war involving missile exchanges. Citizens of Russia, China and North Korea will calmly and methodically file into their civil defense shelters, as they have been trained to do. Americans will look at their cell phones, see a scary message from their government, and panic.
In Hawaii Saturday there were even reports of parents placing their children in storm drains.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, had to calm the ranks of petrified Hawaiians with the following tweet:
But the false alarm ought to be wake-up call for all Americans.
What if the alert had not been a mistake? What if an intercontinental ballistic missile, from North Korea, Russia, China or some other hostile foreign power was launched and what if that missile was equipped with a nuclear payload?
Thanks to this “mistake” in Hawaii, we can get an idea of how pathetic our response will be. People will be getting alerts, on their phones, on radio and TV stations, probably minutes before the missile touches down, and told to “take cover immediately. This is not a drill.”
The obvious question is, where? Where should we take cover? In our basement, if we are lucky enough to have one? Under the kitchen table?
I am not trying to be funny here. The gravity of the matter is made manifest by the singular fact that the U.S. civil defense infrastructure has become a joke.
Back in the 1950 and 60s, millions of federal and state dollars were invested into civil defense. That infrastructure was maintained into the 1970s and 80s, in almost every city of 10,000 or more people.
“I grew up during the time when we practiced assuming the position in the classroom and hallways at school,” said Tracy Gaynor, who grew up in New York and now resides in a small town north of Atlanta. “We even practiced at home, had a spot. I still have one of the ‘for home use’ gas masks that my father made sure we kept on hand.”
In short, Americans back then were trained in survival. Telegraph poles across the country were equipped with sirens that would sound in the event of a nuclear attack. And there were public buildings with an easy-to-spot civil-defense shelter emblem.
Now, when our government tells us to “take shelter,” we can only hope that a rogue state has fired an inaccurate missile that explodes in the sea, or a distant cornfield. But we’d better pray it is not tipped with a nuclear payload.
According to a recent article in Atlas Obscura, after the Cold War had come to an end in the mid-1990s, Hawaii stopped testing its Attack Warning Tone, meant to sound the alarm in the event of a nuclear attack. Why blast an incredibly loud noise each month, when it seemed unlikely to be used?
During the Cold War, all across the country, governments and individuals built shelters and infrastructure like Hawaii’s warning system to ready for the attack. How much of that preparation still stands ready? Could the rest of the country flip a switch back into Cold War prep mode?
That’s highly unlikely. It would likely take years to get back what was lost.
Now, though, as North Korea keeps testing intercontinental ballistic missiles, the state of Hawaii is revving up its Cold War warning system, with a monthly test, according to the November report by Atlas Obscura.
Perhaps that is how today’s “mistake” occurred. Some brave soul in the government decided to pull the trigger on an alert, to show the world how unprepared Americans are for an attack, in hopes that maybe we will bounce out of a slumber.
It’s just a precaution, state officials told Atlas Obscura in November, “but it’s hard not to see this move as a very unwelcome blast from the past,” the website reported.
I would say it’s overdue. And not just in Hawaii but all 50 states.
The world is a much more dangerous place now than it was in 1995, when neither North Korea nor Iran were equipped with nuclear or near-nuclear capabilities. In the case of North Korea, I believe the “rocket man” already has obtained this capability, thanks to presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama — the trifecta of treason.
Cold War infrastructure has mostly been left to decay, but some states and cities have retained at least parts of their infrastructure.
More from Atlas Obscura:
Air raid towers might still stand, but they’re rarely operational. A giant bunker in Portland, Oregon, has been sealed and buried; a radar station in Massachusetts was simply abandoned, as was a cube-shaped radio building in California. A fallout shelter built into the Brooklyn Bridge was forgotten. In many cities, siren systems were left to rust: “A lot of times, they try to crank them up after 40 years and they just catch on fire,” one siren expert told The Baltimore Sun in 2004. In Los Angeles, siren enthusiasts made a hobby of hunting down the aging civil defense sirens scattered around the city.
Leo Hohmann is a veteran journalist and author of the 2017 book “Stealth Invasion: Muslim Conquest through Immigration and Resettlement Jihad.” Donate to this website and help support his investigative reporting on topics most journalists are afraid to touch.