The world now knows that Saturday’s Ballistic Missle Alert for Hawaii was a false alarm, caused by human error. But before the #fakenews hashtags began to show, and before the inevitable memes started making their rounds on the internet, there was a 10 to 40 minute window (depending on where you were) where the threat was considered real, and along with the other 1.4 milllion people in Hawaii that day, I thought a nuclear missle was already on its way, and that it was heading straight for my house.
“THIS IS NOT A DRILL”
For me, the time from learning about the threat to the time I first heard rumors that it may be a false alarm, was just over 10 minutes. When I go back to those 10 minutes, and give them an honest and thorough examination, I find that I can identify the individual emotions that I went through, as well as the order in which I experienced them. What happened next surprised me. There was an extra emotion at the end, one that I never had imagined I would experience when running through doomsday scenarios in my mind. In fact, I never imagined I would feel this emotion in my life, period. But there it was, staring me in the face, and it delivered an unwelcome message about the current state of our nation and of the world.
Here’s the play-by-play…
First 30 Seconds: Disbelief
The first emotion was the one most of us would expect… disbelief. It’s been said that denial is the human’s first instinct when “shit gets real” and that’s probably true. Like most people, I wondered if this was a mistake, and told myself “No way … this can’t be happening.” I wasn’t sure what to do, but I quickly moved to the next phase.
Minutes 1-2: Seeking Confirmation and Nearby Companionship
Immediately after I read the alert on my phone, I texted my next door neighbor to ask if he had gotten the same alert. I then logged into Facebook and began to scroll, looking for news or posts which might confirm that this was real. I scrolled for a few seconds, and soon my neighbor Keanu was at my door, saying “It’s real Danny… the news said to close the doors and windows.”
“This is so fucked!” I replied.
“I know.” he said.
“This is so fucked!” was all I could say in return.
If denial is the human’s first instinct, then huddling together is the second. It seems in times of trouble we look to each other not only for confirmation of a threat, but we also look to each other as teammates or comrades, physically able to confront the incoming threat. I think this is the case because my brain instinctually prioritized my first call to the person who was nearest to me physically and in good fighting shape. So far so good, this is kinda what I expected my response would be.
Minute 3: Fortification and Inventory
I closed my doors and windows, glanced at my emergency water supply (I had been stashing gallons of water throughout my house after President Trump’s “fire and fury” comment in late 2017), and opened my pantry to check on my non-perishables. I had a brief feeling of relief knowing that I had food and water that would last about 2 weeks. My immediate safety was as good as I could get it, so with that I was ready to move to the next phase.
Minute 4: Warning Others
Once my own immediate safety was relatively secure, my next instinct was to warn others. I texted Brooke who was working about 20 miles away at the hospital. I knew she had patients to focus on so I didn’t get dramatic, I only sent a short message to stay safe, and she did the same. I saw a friend’s Facebook post asking if the alert was real, and responded by telling him to get inside. Again, so far so good…all of these instincts and emotions are pretty much going as one would expect.
Minutes 5-7: Seeking More Information
For the next few minutes all I wanted to do was find out more.
When was the missle launched?
Where is it now?
Where will it hit?
What are other people doing to prepare?
I went back and forth between the news and social media, looking to understand the threat in more detail. I had not yet thought about calling or texting family on the mainland… at this stage, I felt that I did not know enough yet. In a way, I was still in denial mode, still looking to confirm that this was actually real. I didn’t think I had enough information to send any “Dear friends and family,” messages. I mean, what would I say? I needed to know more first. It seems that understanding a threat is our next instinct after initially taking cover.
Minutes 8 and 9: The Unexpected Emotion of Anger Towards the President
The next emotion was anger. This was the unexpected part, and it is sorta the point of this post. As the minutes passed, nothing had yet told me that this was a mistake or a drill. Acceptance began to sink in and it was at this point that I got really mad at President Trump.
Stupid F*CK… you couldn’t keep your god damn mouth shut… you just HAD to bait those guys and be a prick…NOW look what you’ve done!
This was by far the most surprising part for me. Never in my life would I have thought that I would in this position: Cursing the President for being a moron who started a nuclear war because he talked shit on Twitter. All my life I had faith that our leaders were indeed the very best of us, and that our President above all people would never do anything to put American civilians in danger. But yet I found myself here, thinking
He did it… he actually did it… Our stupid President actually baited North Korea into nuking the United States.
It was a sinking, sick-to-your-stomach feeling, one that made me less upset about the nuke – and more upset that this… THIS… is the state of our nation: We have an idiot President who is so careless and so incredibly inept on North Korea, that 1 million people could lose their lives because he can’t help himself from baiting a legitimate madman. This is the first time that it’s really hit me just how far we’ve let things slip in this country. Where once our presidents were great, thoughtful, diplomatic men, our sitting President is none of these when it comes to North Korea.
Thankfully, right around this time, the news began to change. I began to see more posts and images indicating that the alert was a false alarm, and a wave of relief washed over me as I breathed easy for a moment, but only a moment. Because although this may be a false alarm, I realized that it doesn’t change the underlying problem: that our sitting President is far too careless with his words, and will likely continue to poke at North Korea, potentially turning today’s false alarm into some kind of weird and morbid foreshadowing.
In other words, our national security is only as secure as a single, impulsive man’s Twitter account will allow us to be… and of all the scary thoughts that went through my mind on January 13th, that last one was by far the scariest.