You are on vacation, in Hawaii, when you hear warnings of an incoming ballistic missile.
What do you do?
Some tourists faced that question Saturday when all the North Korean missile warnings went off on that island in the Pacific Ocean.
“Emergency Alert,” one read. “BALLISTIC MISSILE INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”
Never miss a local story.
That last part was correct: It was not a drill. It was a mistake that reportedly took authorities almost 40 minutes to correct.
So for 40 minutes, people were in a panic, sending final farewells to friends and family, giving up diet resolutions, confessing sins they’d sworn never to breathe a word to anyone about, and trying to get someone to answer at the hotel front desk, where the workers left to seek immediate shelter.
If you think you’re about to die, you want to call the front desk and say, “We broke the lock and we’re clearing out the courtesy liquor cabinet, including all the nuts and chocolates, and we’re watching all the pay movies, and tell room service to send up anything hot, and put it on my bill, suckers!”
These are the final moments people come to regret, when the incoming missile does not come in, and the bill comes due.
The word in Hawaii is the false alarm was triggered by someone associated with the emergency alert team, who punched the wrong button. And to think people were worried the president would be the one to do that.
I prefer to think it was deliberate, an international news prank for which someone yet is getting chewed out: “You think this is FUNNY? You like scaring people? Do you know how many people had extramarital affairs because they thought they were about to die? Stop smirking!”
It’s a reminder that here in Columbus, you can pull a similar prank every Saturday at noon, if you have out-of-town guests who don’t know we test the storm sirens then.
You just wait until the sirens sound and shout, “That’s the missile warning! Kids, grab your lead suits and helmets and head for the bunker! NOW!”
Then you and your family get up and run away and leave your stunned guests sitting there. If they try to hold you up, you pull away and holler, “NO TIME!”
The weekly siren test can be a good time to think about what to do if a tornado’s coming, which in my business is “Go outside with a tablet or smart phone and try to get some video of a tree falling on you.” In TV, it’s “Go live facing the camera as the wind buffets you like a punching bag and tell viewers to take shelter because it’s dangerous outside.”
The weekly call of our Odyssean sirens also could be an opportune time to think about what to do in the event of a nuclear war. As noted in last week’s column, the Centers for Disease Control is to host a briefing on that Tuesday.
The CDC says casualties can be reduced by “sheltering in place.” So be sure to put that at the top of your list of safety tips.
When our Saturday warnings blare, you can run a drill, too. You don’t have to tell anyone else it’s a drill, because as noted in the Hawaii warning, you only have to tell people when it’s not a drill.
For example, were you coaching a kids’ soccer team playing out-of-towners in a championship game at noon on a Saturday, you could tell your players that when the sirens go off, you’re going to yell “Incoming!” And then they’re going to scream and run for cover.
That ought to discombobulate your opponent, these days.