On Jan. 13, when Hawaii went through its ballistic missile scare, it dawned on me that a nuclear bomb could hit my home, and those 15 minutes might not give me enough time to say goodbye.
At first I was scared, but after seeing the chaos that ensued in my home state during those 38 minutes, that fear subsided into frustration. Hawaii may have had an alert system in place and information sent out, but the people are still vastly underprepared. This is an argument I’ve made before, but the false alarm highlighted just how little shelter there is in the state.
There were several accounts of chaos and confusion being shared on social media. One of the most viral moments was of a family placing a child in a storm drain. Why? Because there are no designated shelters in the entire state.
Instead the state advises that people should “only seek shelter if you can reach it within minutes” and “make a list of potential locations near your home, workplace and school, such as basements, tunnels or the windowless area of middle floors in a high-rise building.”
The Hawaii Emergency Management Agency’s answer as to why they do not have shelters by now is that, “Oahu as late as the 1990s had hundreds of designated shelters, some with medical supplies and food. As the Cold War died, as the Iron Curtain came down, the Soviet Union turned into Russia and there was no threat anymore, the funding ran out.”
According to an article in Chemical and Engineering News, students at the UH Manoa campus fled to a shelter on campus in the basement of a chemistry building, but it was locked. The chemistry department chair, Joseph Jerrett, said only facilities staff have keys to the building, and the shelter, basically “an unfinished basement with a dirt floor,” would hold only 100 people.
Others were getting ready to meet their fate. At the Catholic Diocese, the Bishop gave a general absolution to those with him before they all took shelter in the bishop’s residence. Bishop Larry Silva told Hawaii News Now, "They had received general absolution. They were at least spiritually ready to meet the Lord, if that came to be."
Slobhan Heanue, a correspondent for Australia’s ABC news, shared the story of her friend Julian Abbott, who was stranded at the Honolulu airport. “Apart from exposing some pretty serious shortcomings in the alert system, this false alarm shows how drastically unprepared key locations like civilian airports are for this kind of threat,” Heanue tweeted.
Some people went to airline or TSA staff to ask what to do and where to go to take shelter. No one had any answers. There was no announcement over the airport or airline PAs at any time. One staff member said, ‘our manager told us to pray’.— Siobhan Heanue (@siobhanheanue) January 13, 2018
I won’t pretend to know what the solution to this problem is — I am by no means any sort of nuclear expert — but any concerned citizen would be right in wondering how we are still so sorely unprepared at this point. This North Korea threat has been developing for well more than a decade, but this latest wave of concern started in 2016. This is not new, but somehow the state hasn’t made any real improvement in preparing its citizens.
But as my mother told me, after reassuring me that she was fine, there was a silver lining to this terrifying morning. It forced everyone, especially lawmakers and state officials, to take stock in what went wrong and start making better plans for survival.
Gabriella Munoz is a student at Georgetown University and a former intern for the Washington Examiner commentary desk.
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