It was 38 minutes of shock and stress, panic and denial.
That’s how long it took Hawaii officials to finally confirm that there were no incoming ballistic missiles early Saturday morning, and that cellphone warnings of an imminent attack were sent in error.
During that time, residents of Hawaii –including holidaymakers from Vancouver Island – had to be contemplating that they might be facing instant annihilation.
The emotional toll this took on them is only one of the aspects of what must be counted a monumental screw-up. Human error in carrying out a test warning has been blamed for this, and must be considered for another similar missile false alarm in Japan on Tuesday.
But while fingers of blame are being pointed, we should not forget that our over-reliance on recent technology only compounded the error.
While it reportedly took only three minutes after the false notification was sent out for officials to confirm there was no missile threat, notification of people began only with a cellphone message cancellation, followed by tweets and Facebook posts. Because of the current assumption that everyone is glued to cellphones, it was over half an hour before many terrified people, most of them frantically seeking some kind of shelter, would have been able to receive some authoritative word that there was no need for panic. Clearly there will be much wringing of hands over this incident in weeks to come – but just maybe, there is a bright side to this foul-up.
Every now and then humankind needs a watershed moment, a revelation that we are headed down the wrong road.
The people who made a television campaign advertisement for Lyndon Johnson’s run for election as president in 1964 tapped into this by depicting an innocent young girl counting the petals she picked off a flower, suddenly juxtaposed with a stentorian countdown and a clip of an atomic explosion.
More than an effective campaign ad, it has been seen as the beginning of a popular realization that a nuclear arms race could never be the way ahead for humanity.
Maybe by being forced – even through a false alarm – to contemplate the bitter end, we can begin to see a way to craft a new beginning.