If not for the sheer horror of it, Hawaii’s recent nuclear missile scare might be comical.
When the alarm sounded — which later turned out to be a tech’s computer error — Honolulu residents generally panicked, hit the streets. After all, the e-alerts sent out to tens of thousands said the missile was “incoming” and to take cover — and “this is not a drill.”
Those told to seek cover were advised the missile could arrive within 10 to 12 minutes, no more than 15 on the outside. Not much time to make peace and/or amends with whatever god you pray to.
But it turned out to be a cruel misstap on the wrong computer screen icon. Everyone survived, shaken but not destroyed. James Bond would appreciate the humor in that.
But it was a warning, a message about what the future might bring, likely coming as an almost complete surprise.
The joke going around in Washington D.C, is that it was good thing President Trump was on the golf course when the false alarm in Hawaii was transmitted, instead of in the White House and close to the Situation Room and the nuclear-strike launch button.
But black humor aside, what are the chances of surviving such a nuclear blast? Experts are divided on your chances of survival, but they are unanimous is their belief if the device explodes in an air-burst nearby, there isn’t a lot you can do to protect yourself.
An MIT professor who specializes in nuclear weaponry just laughed when a public radio show host asked about surviving such an attack. His take is, if you’re close enough to the point of detonation, your everyday worries are over. Even if you’re a few miles away, the radiation-laced fallout will first sicken, then kill you.
It’s been just more than seven decades since the last use of a large-scale nuclear weapon, and two cities in Japan and their surviving residents will never forget what happened.
Video from the Hawaii false alarm showed Honolulu residents dashing along a roadway, apparently trying to distance themselves from the city’s center, over which they assumed the bomb would detonate. One nuclear expert said, “It makes no sense to run,” because you can’t outrun a bomb just minutes from its target.
Far better to seek cover inside a building, and preferably finding and getting to the basement. The more concrete and steel you put between yourself and the blast, the higher the probability you will survive.
This is not a lot different from precautions one might take in Tornado Alley. Stay away from windows and stay inside, for several days anyway.
If trapped outdoors, find some kind of cover, however minimal, and do not under any circumstances gawk at the bomb’s fireball, because that will be the last thing you ever see. Open your mouth so that pressure from the blast doesn’t rupture your eardrums.
The sad truth is most of us would never remember these simple instructions if, in fact, a nuclear blast was imminent.
The even sadder truth is that we are actually writing this editorial from an era we believed the Cold War brought to an end, and after nations got serious about stopping nuclear proliferation. It was assumed — hoped — that the nuclear Armageddon threat was in our past.
Apparently, it is not. North Korea could be the linchpin, but at least eight other nations have nuclear weapons, and the tension levels between some of those nations are approaching red-alert status. The Middle East situation is especially troubling.