On Saturday morning 01/13/2018, around 8:00 AM, the population of Hawaii was informed throuthe statewide emergency alert system of an incoming ballistic missile warning. The warning added, “This is not a drill.”
It took authorities 38 minutes to issue a false alarm alert.
Regardless of how this SNAFU happened, this singular event provides a natural laboratory experiment of what occurs when a population of 1.3 million people (and countless millions on CONUS) faces the threat of imminent nuclear annihilation.
Message: your life is over in 15 minutes. Although the magnitude of this unprecedented near death experience and event is still unfolding, a full range of behaviors were observed, including mass panic with people running around in the streets, tearful farewell calls to loved ones, people crawling into tunnels and storm drains, heading for the liquor cabinet or the hills, and huddling with their children in their bath tubs in anticipation of the incoming nuclear fire and fury.
Consistent with R. J. Lifton’s notions that nuclear threat is just too terrible for the mind to contemplate, it is likely that this event will quickly seal over with blame meted out to the person who pushed the wrong button and efforts to improve the notification system.
What is likely to be missed is the unique opportunity to observe the human response—individual and community—to impending existential terror.